SI Vault
Alfred Wright
September 24, 1962
Splitting the playoff purse is a strictly hush-hush, but exceedingly frequent, practice among the pros when a tournament ends in a tie. The PGA doesn't mind and most players do it, but both the cash customers and the TV audience are being bamboozled
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 24, 1962

The Big Golf Secret

Splitting the playoff purse is a strictly hush-hush, but exceedingly frequent, practice among the pros when a tournament ends in a tie. The PGA doesn't mind and most players do it, but both the cash customers and the TV audience are being bamboozled

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

Bob Rosburg, the 1959 PGA champion and former chairman of the PGA tournament committee, agrees with Palmer and Player most of the way. "There's nothing unethical about splitting," he says, "at least in a sudden-death playoff. I don't believe you should split in an 18-hole playoff, where luck is not such a factor. But splitting absolutely never affects how hard a man's going to try. It means too much to win. In most tournaments you get more in bonuses than you do in prize money. I'm not even a top-echelon player, but everytime I win I pick up $5,000 or $6,000 in bonuses from companies I am associated with."

"The sudden-death playoff is partly responsible," says Jay Hebert, another former PGA champion and for years one of the leading winners on the tour. "We're working on getting into our sponsor contracts that all playoffs must be 18 holes. It's the title, not the prize money, that really counts. There is hardly a player who wouldn't give away his first-place check for a title. A sudden-death playoff makes it all a matter of luck." The split, points out Hebert, at least gives the unlucky loser some kind of break. "Even Ben Hogan was willing to split a playoff purse," says Hebert. "But he would always make you play for about $1,000."

According to Joe Black, the PGA tournament supervisor, eliminating the sudden-death playoff would not be easy. "It's too hard on the sponsor to have to hold an 18-hole playoff on an extra day," Black advises, "and the sponsor must be considered. The players get half the gate if the tournament goes an extra day to break a tie, and by the time everything is considered it's a losing proposition. When the playoff is for a lot of money, I don't like the idea of a sudden-death, but sometimes it can't be arranged in any other way.

"I feel that purse-splitting is the players' own business," Black continued. "I certainly don't think that it affects at all the way they play. Championships mean too much to these people. I never ask the players if they are splitting. Sometimes they tell me they are, but I always keep it in strictest confidence. Once they've tied for first place, it's their money. It's pretty hard to tell a man what he should do with his own money. I think that if people know how much championships mean to these players they wouldn't even worry about the splits."

Long before most of the current players were born, splitting purses was a common practice among the pros, and not just playoff purses. Walter Hagen recalls that " John McDermott, Mike Brady, Tom McNamara and Jim Barnes—these fellows always divided their winnings. That was back about 1913. If one finished second, one fourth and one fifth, they'd put their money into the pot and split up at the end of the winter tour. I never split any of my prize money, because I always figured I could beat all the others."

As professional golf became more sophisticated and more competitive, the custom grew until by the heyday of Byron Nelson, it was widespread. "In my time, about 60% of the pros split playoff purses," Nelson recalls. "I would guess about the same percentage of them do nowadays. In my opinion, there is nothing unethical about such arrangements. I never asked to split a purse after I had tied for a championship, but if anyone asked you to split with them before the playoff round, the sporting thing to do was to agree. If you didn't you were apt to lose friends.

"I specifically remember the Tarn O'Shanter Open in 1942. Clayton Heafner and I tied, and Clayton asked me to split with him. He said, 'You're going to beat me anyhow, so why don't you be a good guy and cut the money up?' I didn't refuse."

Some do, some don't

Strangely enough, some of the younger, less affluent members of the pro tour aren't so keen on the idea of splitting as the big winners might think. Take Tommy Jacobs, who won this year's San Diego Open in a playoff with young Johnny Pott. "I didn't split with Pott," Jacobs says, "because the difference between first-and second-prize money was hardly worthwhile anyway. I've never been in a situation where big money was involved in a playoff, but I don't think I would split if the occasion came up. It's just like taking a sponsor, in a way. If I won I'd feel badly about giving away money I'd earned. If I lost, I'd feel guilty about taking money I hadn't earned."

Much the same point of view is expressed by 28-year-old Tony Lema, a handsome, long-hitting pro who is still looking for his first victory on the tour. "I'll be honest and say that I'm not really sure what I'd do in a really big-money situation," he says. "Under normal circumstances I would never agree to a split. I don't really think it's fair to anybody."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4