In 1963, Arnold Palmer became golf's first $100,000 man when he earned a little over $128,000. That same year, Willie Mays signed a contract with the San Francisco Giants worth $100,000, making him the highest-paid player in baseball. By 1973, golf's highest-paid player, Jack Nicklaus, earned $308,000 - that was still $58,000 more than baseball's highest-paid performer.
By 1980, however, the comparisons were overturned as baseball hit the $1 million mark when Nolan Ryan signed a Houston Astros contract for that amount. It was eight years before golf would reach that level, Curtis Strange achieving it in 1988 with $1,147,644 to become the sport's first millionaire.
As the sports world embarks upon the 21st century, it is interesting to note it was a golfer who was recently named as sport's most powerful person. Tiger Woods earned the award and became the first two-time recipient in the 46-year history of the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award.
Yet, Tiger's earnings of $9.1 million in 2000 would have placed him a mere 20th on the major league baseball list, and don't forget, Woods has to earn that money. Every golfer starts out with zero dollars and makes only what he earns.
Furthermore, the $167 million combined purse for the 2000 PGA Tour season was just slightly above the payroll of the New York Yankees alone. While the Tour announced that the total purse for the 2001 season will approach $180 million, consider that if Tiger Woods plays in the same 20 events as he did in 2000, his earnings if he wins every single one them would be roughly $15 million . $10 million less than the yearly earnings of baseball's Rodriguez.
Before you cry for the PGA Tour players, be advised that in comparison to individual sports, golf stands above all the rest. Tiger made more than both the leading tennis and NASCAR money-winners - Woods' $9.1 million outranks driver Dale Jarrett at $5.2 million and tennis star Gustavo Kuerten at $4.7 million. While the PGA Tour produced 45 millionaires this year, NASCAR had 38 and men's tennis only 13.
The good news for PGA Tour players is that the Tour is negotiating a new four-year television contract, which is sure to increase purses even more. But as commissioner Tim Finchem said with an eye toward A-Rod's $252 million contract, 'We still have a long way to go.'