Getting ready to watch “The Masters” over the next couple of days got me thinking about how much professional golf is like the free market. Professional golfers are my favorite pro athletes by far. Why is that? Because golfers compete in one of the only major sports that doesn’t use a socialistic design to ensure outcomes for athletes. Pro golfers don’t get salaries and the PGA doesn’t constantly tinker to achieve “parity.” You can’t guarantee outcomes in golf — only opportunities. The pay in pro golf is in direct proportion to a player’s willingness to practice, train, prepare, and compete. Win or make cuts and you earn; miss cuts and you find a new profession or become a teaching pro. Every week, a golfer’s score determines his/her pay. A pro golfer can decide not to play in a particular tournament or to play in every one, but the decision and consequence is theirs. No team plane takes them to a tournament; no hotel rooms and meals are arranged and paid for them; no trainer wakes them up and tells them where to be and at what time. It is the ultimate in personal responsibility.
Many people believe pro golfers were born with a silver spoon and therefore haven’t really “worked” to earn their economic status. Kind of the way many liberals believe most high-earners and achievers somehow found their success on the backs of others rather than through schooling, dedication, sacrifice, discipline, talent, and time. Let me suggest two names — Arnie and Tiger. Arguably, two of the best players in the history of the game and two of the biggest earners, too. Both of them were raised in working class families, not in posh neighborhoods with annual European vacations. They took advantage of their opportunity. They proved that in this country you have the opportunity to do and be just about anything … if you are willing to put in the work and take the risk.
You know what else? Pro golfers, the PGA, and other professional golfing organizations are the biggest contributors to charity in all of professional sports. It isn’t even close. More evidence that private enterprise and private citizens can do wonderfully important things without government assistance.
Finally, I like pro golfers because they understand the sport is essentially based on rules and they depend on each other’s personal character and devotion to honor the game. Without a commitment to respect the rules of the game, the sport would never have lasted through the centuries. The sport doesn’t need referees. Players call penalties on themselves. It is a beautiful example of an efficient, free-market system. The players respect the game, they respect the men who came before them, and they respect the amateurs and fans who keep the sport healthy. They wear their shirts tucked in, their hats on straight and they shake hands with their competitors at the conclusion of the match — win, lose, or draw. America’s children, and more than a few adults, could learn a lot from the game of golf.
Jon Pritchett (@tobbacoroadguy) is senior vice president of the John Locke Foundation.
This piece was updated and re-published from The Pritchett Perspective Blog, originally published in April of 2009.