Let's do some real math here, because what you hear in the media is often completely distorted in terms of how much money pro athletes, especially golfers, make.
Forget about Tiger numbers, at least for now. You're not Tiger. Not even Tiger is Tiger any longer.
Consider Kyle Stanley's numbers. Spectacularly good pro. Averages millions of dollars of tour winnings every year. He likely has five more decent years of playing golf and then he’s pretty much done, aside from spending a few more years on the Senior Tour.
He was in his mid-20s when he started to make any kind of "real" money, but let's pick a great $2 million year. On $2 million of earnings from tour events, Kyle has quite a few expenses—remember the guy schlepping his bag. The schlepper pays much of his own travel but he gets a minimum just for showing up plus 5% of Kyle's winnings—unless his employer wins, in which case the caddy gets 10%. So on the $2 mil of revenues, figure $200k in travel and accommodation costs (Kyle can't afford his own jet by a long shot) which is a dozen business class tickets, a bunch of taxis or car rentals (sometimes provided by the sponsor), and numerous hotel stays. And that assumes it's just Kyle—that he's not bringing his family or coach or masseuse along with him.
Then take away those caddy fees—maybe a hundred grand over the course of a year? So the $2 million turns into $1.7 million quickly. Then there are agent and manager fees (how else is he going to get ad sponsorships?)—take off another hundred grand there and you get $1.6 million, on which Kyle pays taxes from tour winnings. After taxes, he keeps something like $900k.
Which would be great. If he were making that much every year, for the rest of his working life. But he's got to make enough in 5 years or so to be able to retire, because it is highly likely he has more or less no job after he's done at 35 or so.
Now add to his tour earnings a multiple from advertising sponsors…the stickers you see all over his bag. That's $50k here, $50k there. In a good year maybe it adds up to half a million bucks or more. Take out agent and manager and lawyer and accountant fees and he’s down to $400k, which he then pays taxes on to net him $250k or something like that.
If Kyle is great (which he happens to be) and doesn't invest in his buddy's restaurant or do other stupid things with his money, he might be able to save $6 million by the time he's 40. (Remember, he also has to spend money to just…live. He has a house. Eats. Family. Etc. All of these elements have one thing in common: They all cost money.)
So he's 40 now. His back hurts. The cup looks blurry from 6 feet away, even after his second Lasik surgery. He's done. Stick a fork in him. On $6 million, can he live a decent quality life for the next 40 years? Probably. He can't afford a big fat mansion. He can't afford "the high life." But he'll likely get small corporate gigs for $10k a day, a free Lexus from the local dealer, an announcing gig here and there. Maybe a few bucks from the Senior Tour that will cover the cost of his back traction and other medical needs.
He won't be in bad shape, but remember—Kyle Stanley IS ONE OF THE BEST GOLFERS IN THE WORLD. And that’s his financial life.
So we’ll reiterate he bottom line: If you love golf and all you can see yourself doing to be happy is to play golf for a living, then great—go for it. Just don’t do this gig for the money. It ain’t there.