HAVE you ever dreamt about turning pro but wondered just how much cash you’d need to survive on tour?

Brace yourselves, because living out of a suitcase is not for everyone.

I’m an up-and-coming Aussie pro trying to keep my secondary tour card in the US. Like most guys, I have a firm eye on the US PGA Tour and the riches it can potentially one day bring. But until I get there I’m locked in a budgetary battle, carpooling and sharing motel rooms with a host of like-minded guys, many with young families to support.

How do I make it work financially? A rule of thumb on most tours is you keep about 30 per cent of what you earn after expenses and taxes – not a lot if you are missing cuts!

As a non-US PGA Tour player, it is hard to accumulate wealth when don’t have the steady income. On top of that, we also have a lot of expenses. Let me break it down for you:

My Weekly Expense Sheet (all prices in US dollars):

  • Tournament fee $35 (basically a locker room fee)
  • Caddie $850 plus a percentage of the prizemoney I earn
  • Flights $250
  • Hotel $250 (rooms are $500 but share with another player)
  • Car hire $200
  • Tipping $40-$50 (it’s customary to tip 15-20 per cent in the US)
  • Dinners $80

           Total: $1,705

The average cheque for coming last after making the cut in a tournament is $1,500. So in my case to the above, that’s -$205 I’m down for the week and that’s just with my golf.

So what’s free?
On the Web.com Tour you can stay with host families (billets) most weeks, something organised by the tournament. I would guess about 15-20 per cent of players make use of this.

Most weeks we get free breakfast and lunch but we’re on our own for dinner.

Generally, most of the guys get their equipment and clothing supplied by sponsors.

Beware the taxman
You definitely need an accountant over here because the tax is more complex (50 states, it’s more like 50 countries, tax-wise) than back home in Australia. There’s another few thousand dollars for accountancy costs right there.

Extra “state” tax applies in some regions, too.

The real cost of a caddie
If you want a guy from the car park to carry your bag you can pay as little as $600 for the week. But most regular bagmen get paid between $800-$1,000 a week with a 5-6 per cent bonus for making cut. There’s generally a 7-8 per cent bonus for a top-10 finish or 10 per cent for a win. On the main tours caddies can get paid $1,200-$1,300 plus bonuses.

A rule of thumb on most tours is you keep about 30% of what you earn after expenses and taxes

If you were to ask me what percentage of Aussie golf pros here in the US are living comfortably, I’d summarise it like this:

(1) If you’re playing on the mini tours – maybe 2 per cent are living comfortably.
(2) If you’re playing on the Web.com Tour – it’s 50 per cent or less.
If you’re on the main tour– you should be doing just nicely!

The broad assumption that to be a successful pro you need to be ‘well off’ financially before you start isn’t too far off the mark. I think it can certainly help, especially early on with the purchasing of equipment and teaching. But consider this: in golf you can make a living being ranked between 300-500 in the world. There aren’t too many sports that can offer that.        

       – Written with Brad Clifton, editor-in-chief