By David Westin
The Augusta Chronicle
You can call it the million-dollar Masters.
With the way the purse had jumped in the previous two Masters, it didn't come as a shock when the Augusta National Golf Club announced Saturday afternoon that today's winner will, for the first time, earn a million dollars.
The champion will pocket $1,008,000, or $180,000 more than Vijay Singh won in 2000.
The total purse is also a tournament record $5.6 million, or $1,072,172 more than 2000.
Only The Players Championship, which pays its winner $1,080,000 out of a $6 million purse, ranks higher in purse size on the PGA Tour.
Third in line are the four World Golf Championships, which have $5 million purses and pay their winners $1 million each.
The winner's share of the Masters purse has gone from $576,000 in 1998 to $720,000 in 1999 to $828,000 in 2000 to $1,008,000 this year.
Ten years ago, Ian Woosnam won $243,000 for his victory, and the total purse was $1,347,696.
Landmark years for the Masters purse came in 1984, when the winner's check went over $100,000, and 1989, when it went over $200,000. In 1994, it went over 300,000; 1996 saw it pass $400,000; and in 1998 it went over $500,000. In 1999 it jumped from $576,000 to $720,000.
The first year the total purse exceeded $1 million was 1988. It passed $2 million in 1995, $3 million in 1998, $4 million in 1999 and now $5 million.
The Augusta National doesn't comment on its purse size, but many say the purse plays a significant role in how a tournament is ranked in importance.
Currently, the Masters ranks ahead of the other three major championships, but that is subject to change. The Masters is the first major of the year, and the other three have not announced their purses.
Of the other majors, in 2000 the PGA Championship had a bigger purse than the 2000 Masters, at $5 million, with $900,000 going to the winner. The U.S. Open paid its winner $800,000 out of a $4.5 million purse, and the British Open paid $759,000 out of a $4.1 million purse.
The current Augusta National purse is light years beyond the $5,000 it paid in its inaugural year, 1934. The winner, Horton Smith, pocketed $1,500. The balance of the purse was divided among the top 11 pros.
If not for monetary gifts from members such as Bartlett Arkell, who came up with the $1,500 first-place money, the club couldn't have paid the professionals in the field of the first tournament.
In his 1976 book, The Story of the Augusta National, the club's co-founder and president, Clifford Roberts, wrote of the first Masters:
``I must confess that the financial results were a bit disastrous. The start-up cost exceeded the amounts raised to cover such outlays. Our ideas of how a golf tournament should be conducted required expenditures that results in a deficit even before provisions for the prize fund.''
According to Roberts' book, the club lost money on all nine of the pre-World War II tournaments.
Even when the Masters started picking up steam, the prize money was never that high.
``I remember when the purse wasn't over $12,000 and they didn't want it to go up,'' said Augusta's Bill Whaley, a Masters badge-holder since the 1940s. ``They wanted the recognition of winning the Masters Tournament to be the aim for all the golfers and not the money. They tried to keep money out of it for a long time. I think money finally won.''
Jim Furyk, who has fired rounds of 69-71-70 this week, downplayed the importance golfers put on the purse in a tournament such as the Masters.
``As far as major championships are concerned, it doesn't matter if you're playing for $5 or a million dollars,'' Furyk said. ``Everyone is going to want to win the Masters.
``Maybe I'd be putting words in someone else's mouth, but they may think it makes it a more elite tournament to have a bigger purse and for their winner to make comparable money that they would in another major championship.''
No matter what the Masters pays its winner, the money the champ will make on endorsements and overseas appearance fees will greatly exceed his winner's check.
``He's going to be a heckuva lot more money just off the fact he won the Masters,'' Furyk said.
Furyk said a price tag can't be put on what winning the Masters does to a player's stature in the game.
``I think when you're old and you sit around and think about what you've done in your life, having a Masters trophy and a green jacket, the memory of doing that is going to outweigh any financial gain. It's a prestigious thing to do. It's something you dream of as a kid. That outweighs everything else.''