With prize purses upwards of 10’s of millions of dollars already, increasing this can be explained away by the rising market and inflation that naturally occurs over time.
But after awarding Sergio Garcia, the winner of the 2017 Masters Tournament, $1.98 million out of an $11 million dollar purse and last year’s U.S Open winner, Dustin Johnson, $1.8 million from a $10 million dollar purse, a dramatic increase is almost necessary to keep the competition high.
The USGA went above and beyond and allocated a record-breaking $12 million dollars to split amongst the top finishers this year. This will leave the winner with a pretty penny: $2.16 million dollars to be exact.
While this increase may seem like a normal phenomena, it’s not.
In the past, the USGA has been frugal with its pay outs. In 2006, there was only a $55 thousand dollar increase to barely break the $1.2 million mark. Prize money remained stagnant years after, with only three separate increases to the winner’s check over the last 11 tournaments.
Angel Cabrera took home $1,260,000 dollars (only 35,000 thousand more from the previous year) in 2007, and from Tiger Woods the following year to Graeme McDowell in 2010 the pot stayed the same with winners from 2008-10, at $1,350,000 dollars. This will be the first time any player has taken home over $2 million dollars.
Rory McIlroy saw an increase ($90,000 dollars) in his prize money from his 2011 victory, but it was still below $1.5 million. It was not until Martin Kaymer won by an eight-stroke margin in 2014 that the winner’s purse hit that mark.
So, why now? What makes the U.S. Open the leading tournament in prize purses?
“When you look at the USGA championships, by and large just about any way you look at, they’re the most important championships not only in the U.S. but in the world,” Mike Davis, USGA executive director/CEO, told Golf Digest prior to the USGA Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. “And we talked about that and said the purses really should reflect that.”
Davis isn’t wrong, and the numbers prove that the U.S. Open is one of the biggest tournaments on Tour. For 30 consecutive years, the tournament has sold out and while television ratings have fluctuated over time the dramatic finishes in the second major bring in huge audiences.
During the nail biting finish at the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Washington, there was a 46% increase from the previous year’s final round. A total of 11.2 million viewers saw Jordan Spieth best Johnson for his second consecutive major victory.
The USGA is ahead of the curve on this one, and is rewarding players for not only their work, but the viewership they bring year in and year out.
“It’s not something you’re going to see the organization way out in front of in terms of promoting this, but we feel it’s important,” Davis said.
Will Johnson repeat? Will Garcia win two majors in a row? Will any first timers make a name for themselves at Erin Hills? Fans will have to wait until Sunday to find out, but who ever it is will cash the biggest check in golf. Ever.