MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Some of the greatest golfers of all time were playing in Minnesota on Saturday.
Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Trevino have 33 combined major championships between them.
They teed off at TPC Twin Cities shortly after the leaders at the 3M Championship, and put on quite a show in the annual “Greats of Golf Challenge.”
That’s nothing new for golfers like them, but the paycheck is a little bigger now.
Thanks to them.
“I first played here in 1957,” Player said. “So it’s got a lot of great memories coming back here.”
Things have changed a little bit since 1957. Or even since 1962, when Nicklaus first joined the tour.
“Seventy percent of the tournaments were $20,000 tournaments,” Nicklaus said. “First prize was $2,800.”
Even the majors had minor payouts.
“My first Masters I won I got $20,000,” Player said. “The second Masters I won I got $20,000. The third one I get $40,000. Now we play in the (“Greats of Golf Challenge”) this year with Lee and Jack, we finish second, and they give me a check for $35,000. I’m 80 years of age. I said, man.”
The economics of professional golf are perhaps the biggest change to the game in their lifetimes.
“The guys today, fortunately, they can make a living playing golf,” Nicklaus said. “We played golf to win tournaments so we had the opportunity to make a name to be able to go make a living. We made our living off the golf course.”
“We weren’t playing for money because there wasn’t much money,” Player said. “Then came the stage where it was big money, where every week, now first prize is a million dollars.”
And they’re proud to have paved that road for the players of today. The one time you’ll hear a golfer happy about higher numbers.
“My son Gary,” Nicklaus said, “he had his card for three years but he played about 5-6 years, he had more in his retirement than I did. And never won a tournament, he finished second in Atlanta. He won more for second place finishing in Atlanta, and this is 20 years ago, more for a second place finish than I did in my best year in leading money winner. So the times have changed. I don’t have a problem with it, great that the game has grown, great that the guys could make a living, great that the pie’s bigger. That’s what we helped pave the way for. The guys behind us paved it for us, and we paved it for the guys today.”