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The Real Poop

Zzzzzip. It sounds like an alien whistle. It cuts rapidly through the air and then staccato stops with deafening silence. That's when you hit it well. When you miss, it's just a thud-knuckle dump of fat mud and ball, and hideous, barely audible low frequency groans underline the failure. It's the zzzzzip that golfers live for. It's the zzzzzip that professionals worship. The zzzzzip is life. The thud-knuckle is death.

Two sounds. One career. Ready?

That's pro golf. And if that's what you want to be when you grow up (and that process can take 40 years or more for most of us), then you probably already know if you have a shot. By the time you get your driver's license, you ought to already be winning consistently or in the top few players in your state (and you'd better be Number 1,  Number 2, and Number 3 if you live in Alaska). If you're much lower than the top rung, it's likely you won’t make it as a tour pro—a majority of players who would tell you that it was worth the et your driver's license, you ought to already be winning cosacrifices, they were already awesome at 16. For most of us, the only things we're awesome at by the age of 16 are mowing the lawn, creating iTunes playlists, and mastering Wii Golf.

General Petraeus, we hardly knew ye.

Because we're playing adults here, we have to run through the numbers, the odds of you even remotely surviving, and what the world is like if you do.

First of all, touring pro golfers are not qualified to do anything other than play golf. Tour players aren't usually very good teachers—their swings almost always came 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. (Indubitably it would involve there being a putting green installed somewhere.) They don't think; they just do like Yoda sez. They aren't usually particularly patient people either, so running a country club golf course is usually a gig that's out of the picture for them. And…well…what else is there? Maybe selling real estate?

So if you commit to this career, understand that you're foregoing the gazillion other options you have at this stage in your life. And you are making the bet that you are one of the five people per year who will survive on the tour for more than the next 4 years. That is, even if you get your PGA tour card and are in the top 125 golfers in the world, odds are good that you’ll only survive 4 years before washing out and losing your card, meaning that you won’t even be allowed to play in pro tournaments. Your odds of becoming President of the United States are only slightly worse. Incidentally, many of them are done after 4 years as well.

The PGA Tour is where the big guns play. There is usually between $5-9 million in prize money for a regular PGA Tour event—with the winner receiving about 18% of the total purse—or around $1-1.5 million, plus 2-3 times that number in advertising dollar sponsorships. A notch below the PGA Tour is the Nationwide Tour, in which the winner gets only about 1/10th as much, plus around $14.95 in advertising sponsorships for those who are "stars." In other words, nada.

In practice, the best players on the Nationwide Tour get playing slot berths in PGA Tour events, hoping to make it big there with the big money. Phil. Tiger. Rory.

Even scarier than the tiger in Life of Pi.

The "Boolean" (off, on, and nothing in-between) nature of pro golf is the killer element here. Get hot with your putter over the weekend and you can put half a million bucks in your pocket for coming in 3rd ($350,000 from winnings and sponsor financial love). Do that twice a year and it's a lovely gig.

How do you go from that kind of spectacular payday to teaching Mrs. Shmoozits not to shank her 5 iron for $50 an hour, working only when the weather is nice and when someone wants your services? A million+ a year to… 50 grand? It's a tough fall, but most experience it. The odds of survival are minimal, but for those who do, the sound is sweet. Zzzzzip.

It can also be a relatively lonely life. You've got your friends on the tour, and (hopefully) legions of fans who follow you around. But you're constantly traveling, which means you rarely get to see your family; this can lead to less than ideal decision-making (ahem, Tiger). However, if you think you could deal with the solitude, and you're cool with the idea that you'll likely have to figure out what to do with the second half of your life when your golfing career is spent, and you really can't think of anything else in the world you want to be doing, and you're insanely good at the game, then and only then should you consider pursuing the path of a pro golfer. This description doesn't apply to many aspiring golfers though. We can't all be Tiger Woods. Just saying it doesn't make it true.