Top golf professionals are multimillionaires, well paid for their talents, but also for the attention they bring to the game. As with so many other professional sports, scandals and intrigue has rocked the world of professional golf, and probably the biggest example of that is the well-documented escapades of Tiger Woods.
You’ll be fascinated to know, though, that many of the top pros have been embroiled in one scandal or another, and sadly a few have experience tragedy. Those personal scandals often directly affect their game play and millions in potential endorsement dollars. However, those stories have also helped to make our favorite famous figures seem that much more human. Learn all the details about the top pros and what they buy with their many millions.
Phil Mickelson $375 Million
Philip Alfred Michelson is one of the highest-paid professional American golfers, with 42 wins on the PGA tour making him a “life member.” The only major he hasn’t won is the US Open, and The Economist described him as “golf’s best loser ever.” He’s also nicknamed “Lefty” because of his left-handed swing. His playing style is “aggressive” and has been called “risky.”
In his personal life, he has also been accused of insider-stock trading in 2014, though no evidence was reportedly found. A subsequent insider-trading incident involved Dean Foods in 2016- he avoided charges, but was relieved of profits and named as a “relief defendant.” In other words, he paid up for his probably infraction, but wasn’t charged. He didn’t promise that he’d “never do it again,” nor is he barred from serving on the Board of any publicly traded company.
Jack Nicklaus $320 Million
Jack Nicklaus is an infamous (now retired) American Hall-of-Famer and one of the greatest professional golfers of all time. He’s been nicknamed “The Golden Bear” for 18 major career championships, with 73 victories. He’s also known for his work in golf-course design and philanthropy. Nicklaus is also the author of a number of books.
Near the end of his career, he played golf as a therapeutic coping mechanism, after the tragic drowning death of his grandson. “It’s been an overwhelmingly difficult and trying time for my entire family,” he explained. “The loss of our precious 17-month-old grandson Jake was devastating.” His last professional golf appearance was in 2005, but he has appeared as a golf analyst and commentator with ABC Sports.
Greg Norman $300 Million
Gregory “Greg” John Norman is an Australian professional golfer and entrepreneur. He launched his professional golf career in 1976. His nickname is “The Great White Shark” or “The Shark,” and he’s world-renowned for winning 91 international tournaments. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001.
With his bold, aggressive playing style, Norman was the first person in Tour history to surpass $10 million in career earnings. With his Great White Shark Enterprises, his business ventures delve into golf-course design, golf-inspired activewear, real estate, Australian wines (Greg Norman Estates), investments, a golf academy, and beyond. He’s also active in philanthropy (the proceeds from the Franklin Templeton Shootout benefits CureSearch National Childhood Cancer Foundation.) Over the years, Norman has made news for his volatile relationships, with an affair bringing his first marriage to an end, his second marriage lasting 15 months and resulting in a “bitter” divorce because of the “dominating” wife, and the third marriage rebooting the earlier relationship that had ended his first marriage.
Gary Player $250 Million
Gary Player is a (retired) South Africa professional golfer. He’s one of the greatest players in the history of golf, with 165 tournament wins on six continents over six decades. His nickname is “Black Knight,” also “Mr. Fitness” and the “International Ambassador of Golf.” He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.
Beyond his infamy on the golf course, he’s designed more than 325 courses, is the author of some 36 golf book and became a professional golfer at the age of 17 (he’d proclaimed that he’d be #1 when he was 16.) His eldest son, Marc Player, owns and operates Black Knight International, which manages and represents all endorsements, licensing, merchandising, golf-course design and real-estate dev. Throughout his career he was famous for speaking his mind. He called for mandatory drug testing (and is believed to be the first professional golfer to do so). Player was accused of cheating, with Tom Watson famously saying, “Gary, this has been going on for years and we’re sick of it.” He was also famously the “oldest athlete” to pose nude for ESPN The Magazine (2013), to encourage people to continue to look after their health and wellness, no matter what the age.
Fred Couples $105 Million
Frederick Steve Couples has 57 wins in professional tournaments. He has the nickname “Boom Boom” because of his long drives, and “Mr. Skins” for the way he dominated the Skins Game. He’s also unique in that he never plays with a glove. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2013.
Early on, Couples attended the University of Houston with a golf scholarship in 1977. In 1992, he became the first American golfer to reach the #1 spot in Official World Golf Rankings. Sadly, his personal life was fraught with tragedy. Couples’ first marriage (they met as college students) ended in 1993, and her death in 2001 was ruled a suicide. His second marriage to Thais Baker was reportedly in divorce proceedings when she died from breast cancer. (There have also been a number of rumored affairs along the way.)
Rory Mcilroy $80 Million
Rory Mcilroy is a Northern-Irish professional golfer and member of the European and PGA tours. As an amateur player, at 17, he topped the World Amateur Golf Rankings. He then turned pro the following year, on the European Tour.
Mcilroy found himself at the center of controversy for saying: “Golf is an individual sport. You have individual goals and my goals are to win tournaments for myself.” (He later said that he regretted those comments.) Another controversy erupted when Mcilroy threw his club into the water. He apologized, saying: “It felt good at the time but now I regret it. Frustration got the better of me.”
Ernie Els $75 Million
Theodore Ernest “Ernie” Els is another professional golfer from South Africa, with 71 career victories. His nickname is “The Big Easy,” and he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.
Beyond golf, Els has a successful golf-course design business and he’s also philanthropic with the foundation he launched to give underprivileged South African kids access to golf. Like several of the other golf pros, he also has a wine-making business. In 2008, he also became a voice for Autism Awareness (his 5-year-old was diagnosed with Autism.)
Vijay Singh $75 Million
Vijay Singh is a Fijian professional golfer, with 60 professional wins. He’s known for the meticulous, hard work he puts into his game play.
Singh was banned from the Asian PGA Tour play in 1985, after allegations that he “doctored his scorecard” along with other allegations that surfaced. His appearance at the Safari Tour in Africa was a popular comeback (a man of color had never won the tournament before, so the locals cheered him on.) But yet another scandalous controversy involved a statement he made about Annika Sörenstam. He said, “I hope she misses the cut … because she doesn’t belong out here.” Singh later claimed the statement was taken out of context. He was quickly named “pro golf’s bad guy,” according to Golf Digest.
Sergio Garcia $70 Million
Sergio Garcia Fernández is a professional golfer from Spain, who has 29 professional wins on the PGA Tour and European Tour. His nickname is “El Niño” with what has been called “iron play” and great accuracy. Garcia’s father taught him how to golf at 3-years-old, and he went pro in 1999.
He’s been criticized for his swing and grip, but he says: “My swing works for me, so why should I change it? I prefer to have a natural swing and play well rather than a perfect swing and not be able to play good.” He also found himself at the center of controversy with his “fried chicken” remark, when asked if he would have Tiger Woods over for dinner (the controversy recollects the one involving Fuzzy Zoeller’s attempt at humor with fried chicken and collard greens). Garcia was also adamant in his denials under allegations that he cheated in Abu Dhabi.
Jordan Spieth $60 Million
Jordan Alexander Spieth is an American professional golfer on the PGA tour with 11 professional wins. He made the Time magazine list for “100 Most Influential People” in 2016. Spieth played college golf for the University of Texas, before turning professional part-way through his sophomore year.
Beyond golf, he is involved in philanthropic efforts via the Jordan Spieth Family Foundation, which provided awareness and financial assistance for special needs children (his sister has disabilities, and he credits her for keeping him grounded and focused.) Other focal areas for the foundation are military families and youth golf.
Nick Faldo $60 Million
Sir Nicholas “Nick” Alexander Faldo is an English professional golfer on the European tour, with 41 professional wins. When he became the lead golf analyst for CBC in 2006, he said, “I view this as a fabulous opportunity for me, which may come once every 10 years. But it will seriously curtail my playing career. My playing days aren’t completely over but my priority now is given to CBS.”
Faldo launched Faldo Design, his golf-course design practice, in 1991. He’s also involved in coaching schools and pro shops. The Faldo Golf Institute also offers training to help golfers of every skill level, but he also wrote a number of instructional books. He has three marriages under his belt, and some very publicized arguments that have even turned volatile, with angry ex-girlfriends, and alleged mistresses and affairs. Faldo had a payout settlement reported at £15million when he divorced his third wife, and £7million for the second wife.
Jim Furyk $50 Million
James “Jim” Michael Furyk has 27 career wins on the PGA Tour. His nickname is “Mr. 58.” He played college golf for the University of Arizona, Tucson, where he was All-American twice, and turned pro in 1992.
Furyk’s swing has drawn a great deal of criticism and comments, with Gary McCord likening him to “a one-armed golfer using an axe to kill a snake in a telephone booth.” He was also the guy that won the Transitions Championship in Florida in 2010 (it was the event that was thoroughly overshadowed by the Tiger Woods sex-scandal/apology. Furyk seemed largely unphased, saying: “I won the damn thing and it really doesn’t matter to me. I’ve never been someone that’s craved the notoriety or the limelight. I can live with it and I’m fine with it.”
Adam Scott $40 Million
Adam Derek Scott is an Australian professional golfer, who has 29 career wins on the PGA Tour and European Tour. His nickname is “Scotty,” and he went pro in 2000.
Adam Scott became part of the Tiger Woods scandal, when news hit that he was working with Steve Williams, the former caddie of Tiger Woods (who was also reported to be releasing a book, Out of the Rough, about his personal experience with that most-controversial golf legend). When he was asked whether he expected Williams to write a sequel, Scott said, “I’m going to be on my best behavior so there isn’t one.”
Annika Sorenstam $40 Million
Annika Sörenstam is a (retired) Swedish professional golfer, with 93 career wins. She’s been described as one of the most successful female golfers in history. She also broke through gender barriers. In 2003, she was the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event since 1945. Sörenstam’s golfing experience started with her sister at 12-years-old. She, then, played amateur until she moved to the US to play college golf for University of Arizona, Tucson, in 1991. She went pro in 1992.
She was also critical of other female golfers who played in the PGA Tour: “I really don’t know why Michelle continues to do this. We have a major this week and, if you can’t qualify for a major, I don’t see any reason why you should play with the men.” Other controversies have involved her charging American female golfers with “bad sportsmanship,” and that misconstrued statement from Vijay Singh: “It’s ridiculous. She doesn’t belong out there.” Even before she retired, Sörenstam was already building her ANNIKA brand with golf-course design, her academy, wine, clothing, fragrance, and other business ventures.
Graeme McDowell $40 Million
Graeme McDowell is another professional golfer from Northern Ireland, with 14 wins on both the PGA Tour and European Tour. His nickname is “G-Mac.” He started playing golf when he was around eight years old, and eventually moved to Birmingham to play college golf for the University of Alabama. He went pro in 2002.
Although he is friendly with Rory Mcllroy (they’ve traveled and practiced together in the past) and other fellow golfers, McDowell has been named as part of McIIroy’s legal pleadings against Horizon Sports Management (the management company that currently represents McDowell, and with whom McIIroy has been trying to cut all ties, with the claim of “inferior representation”). McDowell says, “The only thing that exists is a tension between two camps, if you like, and I have a foot in each. So when it comes to things that are going on between him and Horizon, with my contracts involved and things like that, that’s just business.”
Lee Trevino $40 Million
Lee Buck Trevino is a (retired) American professional golfer, with 90 career wins on the PGA tour. He’s been called the “greatest Hispanic golfer of all time.” His nicknames are: “The Merry Mex” and “Supermex.” He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1981.
Trevino was introduced to golf when his uncle gave him a few golf balls and an old golf club. He eventually started working as a caddie full-time at the Dallas Athletic Club, and joined the US Marine Corps in 1956 at 17 years old, where he continued his golf game. Trevino went pro when he got out of the military. He once said, “I’ve been hit by lightning and been in the Marine Corps for four years. I’ve traveled the world and been about everywhere you can imagine. There’s not anything I’m scared of except my wife.” Trevino co-authored his autobiography, They Call Me Super Mex.
Tiger Woods $740 Million
Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods is currently the top-paid American golf professional, but the controversies of his life and legend have haunted him through the years. He was a child prodigy, starting golf at two years old. He went pro in 1996 at 20 years old, and by the following year, he was already ranked number one in the world, with his record-breaking performance at the Masters.
Tiger’s speedy rise to fame and fortune made him the world’s first athlete to earn more than a billion dollars in their career, according to Forbes. He also became the second richest person of color, behind Oprah. Woods was at the center of scandal when reports of his epic cheating and sexual exploits began to surface in 2009 and endorsement deals with Accenture and Gillette fell under the ax. The divorce involved a rumored $750 million settlement, along with properties and full physical custody of the two kids all going to his ex-wife. He managed to stay (mostly) out of stories of those sordid scandals in more recent years, until he was arrested for DUI on May 29, 2017. Woods issued a statement saying that his impairment was due to prescription drugs and not because he had been drinking, despite police reporting that he smelled strongly of alcohol when he was pulled over at 3:00 in the morning.
Lee Westwood $40 Million
Lee John Westwood is an English professional golfer, nicknamed “Westy.” He is one of the few golfers who has won tournaments on five continents, with 42 total wins. He turned pro in 1993 after winning the British Youth Championship.
With Tiger Woods a much-less-serious contender in more recent years, he says, “The main challenge is fulfilling my own expectations and especially over the last couple of years I’ve been putting myself in a position to win a major and feel like I ought to be expected to win a major now. So the greatest pressure comes from me, not from anybody else.” It was clear that his he split from wife Laurae distracted Westwood from his game. They eventually divorced in 2015.
Luke Donald $40 Million
Luke Campbell Donald is another English professional golfer, with 16 career wins on the PGA Tour and European Tour. He played college golf at Northwestern University in 1997 and turned pro in 2001.
Beyond golf, Donald has a partnership with Terlata Wines and is active in philanthropic circles, supporting the Ronald McDonald House Charities and The First Tee.