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Schupak: Mo money? Winning still is the ultimate prize

ATLANTA — There’s $18 million reasons why Rory McIlroy isn’t express mailing it in this week at the Tour Championship despite suffering muscle spasms in his lower back.

That’s the winner’s haul as the season-long FedEx Cup champion finds a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Last place in the 30-man field? $500,000. Nice work if you can get it. But everyone that made it to East Lake already has filled their coffers with a minimum of $5 million this season. No one’s going hungry.

And yet when McIlroy was asked whether he was frustrated that his back went out on him ahead of the playoff finale, he didn’t hesitate in his response.

“I would rather it pop up now than in three or four weeks’ time,” he said, a reference to the Ryder Cup, which is scheduled for Sept. 29-Oct. 1.

There’s no purse at the biennial match between the U.S. and Europe, just bragging rights that last a lifetime. There’s only three certainties in life: death, taxes and anytime someone says it’s not about the money, it’s always about the money.

So much of the talk in golf for the past few years has centered around the all mighty dollar and the obscene amount of guaranteed money being paid by the Saudi Arabian-backed LIV Golf to pro golfers who hit a little white ball into a hole. From skyrocketing purses to paying PIP money based on popularity, the PGA Tour has tried to buy the loyalty of its biggest names. But to hear Masters champion Jon Rahm tell it, he’s never focused on the money.

“It’s one of the things that frustrates me about watching this broadcast. Like, we’re not thinking if we miss a putt how much it’s going to cost us money-wise. No chance. Like, none whatsoever,” he said. “You’re trying to finish as high as possible. You’re trying to win a tournament. It’s one of my pet peeves when they make this tournament all about money because I think it takes away from it.

“When you win a Green Jacket, I can tell you right now that any major champion this year might not remember how much money they made. And that’s the beauty about this game and I think that’s kind of how it should be. Obviously I’m saying that being in an extremely privileged position financially. I mean, at that point, from first to second, you’re making a ton of money, so it’s more about winning than the prize itself.”

Shortly after Rahm made his comments, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, who earned more than $21 million in official money this season, a new single-season Tour record, was asked if it ever dawned on him what the difference between earning first and fifth place money?

“Well, I don’t know how much it is,” he said. “I mean, no. I’m very grateful to play golf for money, but that’s not my motivation. It’s as simple as that.”

When asked if he knew how much money he won as Masters champion last year, Scheffler pointed at his agent and replied, “He’s got my bank book. I don’t know. Just kidding.”

Collin Morikawa, the 36-hole co-leader at the Tour Championship, entered the FedEx Cup Playoffs in 2021 in the pole position but struggled and finished 26th. The pressure of winning the FedEx Cup is real.

But when asked whether he could recall the last time he thought about the money, he said, “I really haven’t. Look, I’ve been very fortunate to get off to a great start in my career and never had to really think about that. I’ve been lucky. It’s weird this year, with all the designated events, next year signature events, it’s always, everyone makes it about the money. But I really don’t care. I would play these tournaments because I want to play against the best guys in the world.

“I want to win. And whether you get a dollar out of it or 10 million dollars out of it, a win’s a win. Like, at the end of the day, the wins mean so much to myself that I would trade ’em all in for just another win. I would trade the money for another win and more majors. Because people don’t understand how good it feels. That’s what you dream of. That’s what you desire to do. That’s what you want to do. That’s why you practice. Yeah, you just want the win.”

While the rich are bound to get richer at golf’s ultimate payday, the money can’t compete with the glory of golf’s majors and Ryder Cup. That’s what drives the great ones.

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