In all the garment rending and angst over the length of time it takes pros to put in a day’s work, I have never heard anybody mention one of the likely culprits: the massive increase in the amount of money at stake with each stroke. In this past weekend’s tournament, The Byron Nelson, the difference between being tied for seventh and tied for ninth was about $53,000. The difference in score? One lousy stroke. The difference between being tied for ninth and being part of the logjam at fifteenth was around another $50,000, and again the difference in score was one measly stroke. That’s one lipout, one pushed approach shot or one errant drive. That’s it. ( And I’m not even talking about the much larger spread between winning the tournament and coming in second. In case you didn’t look it up, golf’s new Mr. Charisma, Jason Dufner, took home a cool $1.17 mm, outpacing Mr. Dicky Pride by almost $470,000.)
Just to put these dollar amounts in perspective, we’re talking about differences in earnings roughly equivalent to household median income. So if it takes a year for half of the households in this country to make up to $50k, then are we surprised, or even in a position to whine, when professional golfers take some extra time in an effort to win, or if you prefer, earn the same amount of money?
The increase in purse size on tour, like so many other barometers of the value we place on sports, has been remarkable over the past 20 years. As measured in constant dollars, the amount of money at stake in one year of the PGA Tour was fairly constant over the decades until the mid-80’s when the numbers started to take off. The increase was about five-fold between 1985 and 2004, and that doesn’t include the massive increase in endorsement opportunities and the rest. Viewed from this perspective, the increase in playing time for an average round on tour, from the standard of about four hours to something in the neighborhood of five to five and a half, seems like a reaction that any economist would classify as very rational.