Jordan Spieth confidently rolled the most expensive putt you'll ever see Sunday, the ball beelining straight to the center of the cup on No. 18 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. With a shrug, the slightest of fist pumps and a wry grin, the 22-year-old was $11.5 million richer: $1.5 million for winning the Tour Championship and $10 million in bonus cash for his FedEx Cup playoffs victory.
It was a capstone moment to a season that has made Spieth one of golf's most successful and richest players. Spieth is expected to surpass $50 million in total 2015 earnings -- endorsements and other income included -- putting him atop the game while supplanting Tiger Woods, who has led the game for 12 straight years, according to Golf Digest estimates. But while Spieth, just three years into his career, seems destined for continued success both financially and professionally, he'll likely never reach the endorsement successes of Woods in his prime.
"It’s going to be very, very difficult to measure up to the Tiger Woods phenomenon," said Galen Clavio, a sports management professor at Indiana University.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 27, 2015
The Sky Is The Limit
It's hard to have a better season than Spieth just capped by winning the Tour Championship. He won five times, including two majors in the Masters and the U.S. Open, while bringing home $12 million just in winnings cash, breaking Vijay Singh's 2004 record of $10.9 million. Including the $10 million from winning the four-tournament FedEx Cup series, Spieth outpaced Woods' 2007 record for total earnings of $20.9 million. He is ranked No. 1 in the world and will almost certainly soon be named the PGA Tour Player of the Year.
Still, Spieth is a long way from the earning power of Woods during his prime. Golf Digest projected Monday that Spieth would overtake Woods as the top total earner for 2015, pushing past $50 million. But in 2007, when Woods was omnipresent and before his spectacular fall from grace in an infidelity scandal, he pulled in an estimated $122.7 million through winnings and endorsements, according to Golf Digest. He easily topped Forbes magazine's earnings list for athletes.
Woods pushed forward the game as a whole, drew in new demographics to the sport and was promoted as the face of golf by Nike from the outset. That said, Spieth has potential to become a sports icon in his own right, Clavio said.
"The sky [is] the limit for this guy not just because he's an excellent golfer, but because he seems to have this mix of humility and charisma that makes the golf [media and fans] go crazy," Clavio said.
Just six players have won five times in a PGA Tour season since 1980, according to ESPN. Woods has done it 10 separate times. Spieth earned his fifth victory Sunday, joining Jason Day as the second golfer to reach the benchmark in 2015.
With yesterday's win, Jordan Spieth became just the 6th player since 1980 to earn 5 PGA TOUR wins in a single season pic.twitter.com/inluQTtcil
— ESPN (@espn) September 28, 2015
Both 27-year-old Day, who won his first major at the 2015 PGA Championship, and Spieth ascended to the top of golf this season, alongside 26-year-old Rory McIlroy, who is ranked third. That makes up a solid core of top players, with 39-year-old Woods' future uncertain. It could also prove to be a marketing advantage for Spieth, who can play up any potential rivalries.
"I've always been of the opinion it's good for the player and the sport to have co-dominance situations," Clavio said. "I think that will really help him because he doesn’t seem to have the type of personality where he comes out and talks about how great he is."
Expanding The Brand
Spieth already has a number of sponsors in his corner to help boost his marketing and earnings potential, including AT&T, Titleist, Rolex and Net Jets. He also signed a major 10-year deal with Under Armour this year and the company has made him the face of its push into golf. Moving forward, he'll likely have his pick of brands to represent.
"He can expand into pretty much any category he doesn’t have yet," said Bob Dorfman, sports marketing expert at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco. "It really comes down to: When you just made $22 million, you have to think, 'How much do I really need?' …. I think it would be a balance in terms of how much he wants to do."
Spieth's agent told Golf Digest they will carefully consider the effect a company could have on his image and the time constraints of a new endorsement when looking over offers. Some 37 percent of consumers recognize Spieth, putting him on par with celebrities like New York Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia, skateboarder/TV personality Rob Drydek and actress Bridget Moynahan, according to the Marketing Arm, a marketing and promotion agency that measures engagement.
"It's within the realm of possibility to reach Tiger level," Dorfman said. "There’s so many ifs to that question, it's hard to say he'll ascend to that level."