Golf Pro versus Pro Golfer
Strictly speaking, anyone who earns money by playing or teaching golf can be considered a golf pro. The vast majority of golf pros, however, are instructors who likely play much less golf than the students they teach.
A pro golfer is someone who plays golf for a living. The best pro golfers play on a major tour, such as the PGA Tour in the United States, or the European Tour. Other pro golfers play on development or mini-tours.
What is a golf pro?
In the United States golf industry, golf pros are typically members of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America also known as the PGA of America. PGA members include about 27,000 golf pros, according to the PGA website. While many of these professionals work on the business or management side of golf, many others fit the commonly used “golf pro” label.
The PGA’s career designations include “Head Golf Professional,” who gives lessons and supervises golf instruction at a golf course, driving range or other golf facility.
A “Teaching Professional”, or teaching pro, may give lessons to amateur golfers, teach the rules of golf, or help develop swings, according to the PGA.
These golf pros, also known as club professionals, also offer advice on golf clubs and other equipment, while some will coach scholastic teams on the high school or college level at amateur tournaments.
What is a pro golfer?
A pro golfer earns a living -- or attempts to do so -- by playing in tournaments on one or more of the world’s professional golf tours.
The PGA Tour, in particular, is the best known and has the most lucrative tour events. The average gross income for a PGA Tour player in 2021 was $1.4 million, mainly from prize money. Other well-known golf circuits besides the PGA professional tour include the LIV Golf Tour, DP World Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour, the latter of which serves as a stepping stone to the PGA Tour golf tournaments.
While large incomes are possible -- Jon Rahm made $7.7 million in 2021 -- tour professionals are responsible for all their travel expenses and typically earn a tournament paycheck only if they make the cut.
What is a Swing Coach?
Swing coaches typically fall into the category of golf pros, but are generally freelancers or owners of their own facilities, rather than working at a club or driving range.
The best swing coaches work with the best in the game of golf, helping refine or even reshape their swings. Butch Harmon, for example, played briefly on the pro tour, but made his name as a coach to players such as Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els. Often these swing coaches help out as caddies in professional tournaments.
Many club pros make a living by teaching the game, but also compete in state, local or regional tournaments, often alongside professional tournament golfers. Golf pros can play in USGA events like the US Open qualifiers and work their way into playing in one of the most prestigious majors. PGA pros also are able to compete in the PGA Championship but it is very hard given the small field size.
M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.