In all the days of their glory, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson among them sacked up slightly more than $2 million in prize money and fringe benefits—glittering testimony to the advantages of clean outdoor living and the overlapping grip. Two million is an untidy sum, even in these days of inflated purses, and none of the three needs worry where his next pair of alligator shoes is coming from. Yet it must occasionally occur to Hogan, Snead and Nelson to sorrow over the fate that dropped them into this vale of cash too soon, for, during 1962 and 1963, three other golfers will make more money than Hogan, Snead and Nelson made in 30 years. They are Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, who may soon have to abandon their present playing affiliations and register out of the Internal Revenue Service instead. For this, all three are eternally in debt to a precocious genie named Mark Hume McCormack.
No sport, least of all golf, has ever seen the likes of Mark McCormack. A tall, blond young man of 33 with the expression of an indignant owl, he is nominally the attorney for Palmer, Player and Nicklaus. In actuality, he is also their booking agent, investment counselor, tax consultant, publicity agent and one-man licensing corporation. In one guise or another he handles all of their contract negotiations, exhibitions and endorsements, creates and operates more than two dozen corporations in which they are involved, keeps their books, plans their itineraries, answers their mail, pays their bills. Most of all, he makes them rich. If Palmer, Player and Nicklaus do not become the first millionaires in professional golf, it will be only because Sam Snead beat them there and what it took Snead the major part of a lifetime to accomplish McCormack's three clients will have attained virtually overnight.
McCormack is a golfer of no small skill himself, having qualified for the National Amateur four times, but his primary contributions to the partnership are a sharp, incisive legal mind and an overpowering compulsion to convert his hot three into cold cash. The services that he renders have all been performed before, but always for celebrities in other fields, and never have the various offices been so coordinated under one man. With such positive control over the financial affairs of the three best players in the game, McCormack has been able to demand—and obtain—for his clients a kind of payment for television appearances, exhibition matches, instructional articles and the endorsement of products unheard of before.
"We have stopped giving these things away," says McCormack. As a result, he is on the verge of changing the economic structure of an entire profession. To the touring pro in search of a fast buck, Mark McCormack must look like the greatest thing to hit golf since the $100 Nassau.
Arnold Palmer is the best example of what McCormack hath wrought. By the end of 1959, Palmer was already considered one of the great players. He had won the 1958 Masters and seemed uncontested heir apparent to Hogan's crown as No. 1. By existing standards he was also a prospering young man. He was under contract to Wilson Sporting Goods Co., with a guarantee of $6,500 a year. He received between $750 and $1,000 for an exhibition match. He could pick up $50 or $100 any time that he decided to turn out a tip or instructional article. Endorsements brought him free golf shoes, free golf shirts, free slacks and free underwear for his wife. Including prize money, Palmer's total income for 1959 amounted to something like $59,000. This was far less than Ted Williams and Stan Musial were making out of baseball and would hardly have kept Eddie Arcaro in silk suits and big cars. But then tournament golf was never supposed to produce instant millionaires, only a comfortable living for the handful who could scratch their way to the top, and Arnold Palmer, apparently, was already there. Then McCormack came along.
This year Palmer has won over $80,000 in tournament competition, but, for the Palmer of today, tournament golf is only a means to an end. His total 1962 income, from all sources, will approach half a million dollars—and this is only the first, tentative assault on the mother lode. "We are just getting started," says McCormack, "yet I'll tell you how big this thing has already become. Arnold Palmer could quit playing golf right this minute, never win another tournament, and, for the rest of his life, he would be a very rich man."
The published annual income figures of $400,000 or $500,000, however, make McCormack wince. "They didn't come from me," he says, with a glance in the direction of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. "I really have no idea what Arnie—or Gary or Jack—will earn in 1962. Let me explain why.
"Every time Arnie wins a $10,000 tournament now, he gets to keep only about $1,500. Taxes get the rest. He commands $4,000 and up for an exhibition—but seldom accepts a flat fee since this, too, means playing for virtually nothing. Instead, almost everything we do is predicated upon the realization, not of salary, but of corporate income.
"For example, Arnie owns 75% of a company that will gross $50,000 this year. He owns 20% of another company with a much larger income. He has a stock option in a company whose value will increase by $300,000. He is involved in another venture that should guarantee him a quarter of a million dollars over the next 10 years. But none of this is in the form of salary. So when people ask what Arnie will make this year, I tell them that I don't know, because I don't. I can't even tell Arnie. But I can give him a net worth statement that is fantastic, and I'll tell you this: in 1963, Arnold Palmer's net worth will increase more than the combined earnings of Hogan, Nelson and Snead in any one year. Before taxes."
As a result of McCormack's efforts, this capitalistic club swinger is incorporated from his shoelaces to his ears. There are so many corporations that three of them—McBreck Enterprises, McTodd Enterprises and McDallie Enterprises—are named after McCormack's two toddling sons and their year-old Dalmatian dog. The Arnold Palmer Golf Exhibitions, Inc. promotes and sponsors all his exhibition matches, handling publicity, tickets, parking, concessions, everything. The host club gets a guarantee or a percentage, the corporation pockets the rest.