The Real Poop
A well-struck golf ball sounds a lot like an alien whistle (so we're told). It cuts rapidly through the air and then stops, staccato-like, with a deafening silence. That's when you hit it well. When you miss, it's just a thud-knuckle dump of mud and ball, with a hideous, barely audible low-frequency groan to underline the failure.
It's the zzzip that golfers live for. It's the zzzip that professionals worship. The zzzip is success. The thud-knuckle is failure.
Two sounds on opposite ends of the spectrum in one career.
That's pro golf. That's what you're here to learn about, to read about, and to think way too much about for the next few minutes. PGA and LPGA Tour competitors make thousands of dollars and compete for millions. Yes indeed—the average pro tour golfer makes around $300,000 a year (source).
Unfortunately, the average golfer doesn't usually make the pro tour. Just based on averages, your chances aren't good.
Seriously, there are only a couple hundred pro golfers in the entire country, and only a few hundred more in the entire world. More kids get drafted by Major League Baseball every year than actually play professional golf (source). We'll give you all the club-swinging facts about the job, but you've got to know right off the bat (club?) that you're going to have to be really good at golf to even consider turning pro.
And no—for the first, last, and only time: mini golf doesn't count.
First of all, touring pro golfers aren't focusing on doing anything other than playing golf. All they know is their own game. Tour players don't often make very good teachers; their swings almost always come to them naturally, and they couldn't point out a problem with someone else's swing any more than they could tell a struggling architect how to design a better building. The wisdom to explain the craft comes with lots of experience—which includes learning from a whole lot of abysmal drives and not-enough-oomph putts.
If you commit to this career, you're placing a bet that you're one of a handful of people per year who'll survive on the tour long enough to make it their "thing." Your odds of becoming President of the United States are only slightly worse. Although we expect your tenure will involve a lot fewer speeches and applause that's a lot more polite.
The PGA Tour is where the big guns play. Millions of dollars in prize money is on the line for a regular PGA Tour event—the winner receives a fair amount of cash, but all the golfers get a little something-something. The top few even get that sweet sponsorship money, but to do that you gotta wear that company logo, thus demonstrating that you're working for the Man.
Would you believe there are also golf associations that aren't the PGA Tour? Others like the Nationwide Tour and National Golfers Association are professional as well, but don't involve nearly as much money. They actually bring the average salary down a few grand (thanks a lot guys).
In practice, the best players on the Nationwide Tour get playing slot berths in PGA Tour events. Other people just make it straight to the PGA Tour because they're fantastic golfers with proven track records (course records?). The reason you always hear Tiger's name is because Tiger always makes it.
The you-win-some-you-lose-a-lot-more nature of pro golf is the deal-breaker element here. Get hot with your putter over the weekend and you can pull in half a million bucks by coming in third place. Do that twice a year and it's a lovely gig. Do that twice a lifetime and you're going to have to learn the value of long-term budgeting.
It can also be a relatively lonely life. You'll have your friends on the tour, and (hopefully) legions of fans who follow you around. But you'll also constantly be traveling, which means you rarely get to see your family. If you think you could deal with the solitude, then maybe you can give this a shot.
Oh, you also have to be cool with the idea that you'll need to figure out what to do with the second half of your life when your golfing career is spent. So again, you're placing a pretty sizable bet on yourself if you think this'll be a lucrative long-term option.
If you're naturally good at the game, then go for it—you can at least try to pursue the path of a pro golfer for a time. Just remember, becoming a world-class golfer is a lot like hitting a hole-in-one—it'll probably never happen, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the game while you keep driving.
Although maybe you should just enjoy it on the weekends while you're away from your real job...just a thought.