Purse size an indicator of Tour’s growth

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – For generations, the pros have been showing up at Pebble Beach. What started as a gathering of a few of Bing Crosby’s friends has grown into one of golf’s most celebrated gatherings.

You can almost record the Tour’s growth by tracing the purse of this one event, which made a significant leap 25 years ago when AT&T was introduced as the title sponsor.

Not long ago, I spoke with former PGA Tour winner Bob Dickson, who told me that when he turned pro in 1968, Tour purses finally eclipsed $100,000.

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Rickie Fowler took home $571,090 in prize money in 2009.

“We thought, boy, were we born under the right sign,” he said with a laugh. “We’re playing for all this money. You can imagine what Sam Snead was saying. He surely was grumbling how he was born at the wrong time.”

It was Snead who won the inaugural Crosby Clambake in 1937 when it was played at Rancho Sante Fe, near Del Mar, Calif.  When Snead saw a $500 winner’s check coming his way, he asked, “If you don’t mind, Mr. Crosby, I’d rather have cash.”

Today, they can hardly fit all the commas and zeroes on the winner’s check.

CBS analyst Nick Faldo asked Tour rookie Rickie Fowler on Wednesday night how much loot he hauled away last year after turning professional and playing three Fall Series events.

“A little over a half million (dollars),” Fowler said, with a smile almost as fat as his bank account (he earned $571,090 to be exact).

Faldo shook his head, looked at Fowler and said with more than a tinge of envy, “My first season on Tour I won 3,000 (pounds).”

We all know that Faldo cashed his fair share of checks during a Hall of Fame career, but his point was clear: the game continues to grow, and the next wave of players always is richer for it.

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