Friday, December 7, 2012

The PGA Tour Career Money List Is Meaningless

Who are the all-time highest earners in PGA Tour history? Here are the Top 25 golfers on the PGA Tour career money list at the end of 2012:

1. Tiger Woods, $100,950,700
2. Phil Mickelson, $67,644,698
3. Vijay Singh, $67,277,743
4. Jim Furyk, $52,719,459
5. Ernie Els, $44,771,409
6. Davis Love III, $42,208,476
7. David Toms, $38,865,778
8. Steve Stricker, $35,079,561
9. Justin Leonard, $31,861,400
10. Kenny Perry, $31,797,536
11. Stewart Cink, $30,836,995
12. Sergio Garcia, $30,582,574
13. Luke Donald, $28,860,433
14. Adam Scott, $28,306,454
15. Retief Goosen, $27,525,642
16. Scott Verplank, $27,400,942
17. K.J. Choi, $27,373,854
18. Mike Weir, $26,821,949
19. Stuart Appleby, $26,757,857
20. Robert Allenby, $26,408,821
21. Zach Johnson, $26,277,293
22. Geoff Ogilvy, $25,738,157
23. Rory Sabbatini, $25,464,837
24. Mark Calcavecchia, $24,147,827
25. Jerry Kelly, $23,845,162

What this list (and the full list, which you can view on PGATour.com) tells us is that the career money list is meaningless. Absolutely useless as an analytical tool. Stewart Cink and his six career wins is the 11th highest-earning golfer in PGA Tour history? What good does knowing that do? Jerry Kelly is in the Top 25? Good for Mr. Kelly, who has had a fine career and now gets to use a one-time exemption for being inside the Top 25 to keep his card for the 2013 season.

But it doesn't tell us that Kelly is one of the 25 best golfers of all-time (an absurd notion), or even one of the 25 best of his era (highly debatable). It tells us that what it takes to make this list is to be a good (not great - just good, or, actually, just slightly above average) golfer on tour over an extended period of time, a period of time that is taking place in the current money environment.

How useless is the all-time earnings list? Consider that, as I write this, Tim Herron is No. 45. Lumpy!

If you adjust for inflation, does it matter? Not really. Golf tournament earnings have exploded far beyond the pace of inflation, for reasons mostly to do with first the arrival of television, and then the development of sports programming on television. And Tiger Woods (and to a lesser extent before Tiger, Arnold Palmer's arrival).

So the PGA Tour all-time earnings list is fun so long as you don't take it seriously.

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