Game, Set and Match to Golf in the Player Prize Money Stakes

David Cook

Posted: September 16, 2014

British number two men’s tennis player James Ward made the headlines recently after speaking out about the huge gulf in prize money between the best and the rest in men’s professional tennis. Indeed, even the great Andy Murray, a close friend of his Davis Cup teammate, felt the need to highlight that much more needs to be done to spread the wealth in the sport more equitably.

Ward this week reached a new highest singles ranking of 131 and is arguably playing the best tennis of his ten-year professional career, with this ranking set to increase still further. A string of solid results at ‘Challenger’ level have resulted in small but regular injections of priceless ranking points.

It is however at this Challenger level, the second tier of professional men’s tennis, and below, where players operate very much on the harsh coalface of the sport. Toiling away at far flung locations in countries such as Ecuador, Tunisia and Guadeloupe, playing for prize money the size of which the likes of Murray could have dropped down the sofa and forgotten all about. Quite simply, competing on tennis’s premier ATP tour is vital for players to prosper.

Ward is a well-respected figure within the locker room, and not one for complaining about his lot, but observes:

“The level I’m playing at is completely different (to Murray). You’re paying your own expenses and your coach’s; food, hotel, travel – for 2 people. And if you lose in the first round you’re getting £180 – minus tax, it’s embarrassing. You’ve just got to win matches but it’s very tough to make a living ranked at the 100-250 level.”

Ward’s 2014 earnings to date total $205,642, but we’ll come back to those later.

He then proceeded to make another interesting comparison as he turned his attention to golf. You see, there’s not just an issue between the ‘have’s’ and the ‘have not’s in professional tennis – but also the disparity between the prize money involved in the world’s two biggest individual sports.

So, let’s take a look at the counterpart number 131 world-ranked player in golf, which just so happens to be another well-respected English pro, Simon Dyson. Like Ward, Dyson has enjoyed some memorable career highlights, such as six European Tour victories, but also, like Ward, he has rarely threated to compete at the upper echelons of his sport and with all due respect cannot be considered an elite player.

Interestingly, Dyson’s 2014 earnings to date, total $760,412. So Ward is currently earning 27% that of Dyson, or conversely, Dyson gets 370% that of Ward.

So how can this inequality be explained? Well, first and foremost, golf is notorious for its high prize money, contributed to in no small part from major sponsorship deals and broadcast revenue in key markets, according to a recent report by the Economist. On American television for example, golf is now far more popular than tennis.

Perhaps the nature of the competition in each sport also plays a role. The stroke-play scoring system operated in the vast majority of major golf tournaments means that it can often be clear after the opening round that a particular player will not win. Therefore prize money can still act as an incentive even when it is obvious that a player will finish well down the field. On the other hand, the knock out format of tennis usually means that prize money increases gradually through the rounds, with only the biggest tournaments paying out handsomely for an early-round exit.

In addition, the less physically demanding nature of golf potentially lends itself to much longer and even more financially lucrative playing careers.

Just don’t mention this to Ward, or any of the other players currently trying to scrape together a living on the outskirts of men’s tennis.


IThe Economist (2011) The business of golf: Beyond Tiger [online] Available at [Link] [last accessed 12th September 2014]

IIForbes (2013) How the 92nd-ranked tennis player in the world earns a comfortable living [online] Available at [Link] [last accessed 12th September 2014]

IIIThe Guardian (2014) James Ward puts fight over pay gap in French Open spotlight [online]. Available at [Link] [last accessed 12th September 2014]

IVSimon Dyson European Tour Profile [online]. Available at [Link] [last accessed 12th September 2014]

VJames Ward ATP Player Profile [online]. Available at [Link] [last accessed 12th September 2014]

About David Cook

David Cook is an academic at Coventry University, UK. His industry background involves roles within Market Research and Brand Development and his research interests include the commercial impact of sporting mega events and ownership models within professional sports teams. His favourite sports are football, cricket and tennis.