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Pros find that silly-season money spends just as well
The silly season is no longer just for fun.
In the six weeks since the PGA Tour season officially ended at the Tour Championship, there have been 11 tournaments around the world with prize money topping $22 million.
The total purse on the PGA Tour wasn't that high 20 years ago, when the Skins Game was created and paved the way for the silly season -- events that don't count toward the world ranking or history but offer money that still spends the same.
Instead of recharging their batteries, more players are reloading their bank accounts.
Colin Montgomerie was in South Africa for the Nedbank Challenge, competing against Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia. The next week he was in California for the Target World Challenge, playing against Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
"To be invited to these events is a thrill," Montgomerie said.
That wasn't the only lure. Simply showing up was worth $150,000 in Sun City and $130,000 at Sherwood Country Club.
"Yes, well, there is the thing about money," Monty said, breaking into a broad smile.
Fred Couples knows that all too well. He has been ridiculed as the "King of the Silly Season," and Couples laughs all the way to the bank.
"I'm one to realize the importance of some of these events," Couples said. "Obviously, winning it means you make some money."
Couples played in only two PGA Tour events all summer. Then the silly season arrived, and he played three times in three weeks, pocketing $280,000.
The joke is on those watching from home.
"The people who make fun of it aren't playing it," Rich Beem said. "I know, because I used to be the guy making fun of it."
Beem's victory in the PGA Championship made him an overnight celebrity and earned him invitations to four silly-season events.
He won the Wendy's Three-Tour Challenge ($167,000) with Jim Furyk and John Daly, won the Hyundai Team Matches ($100,000) with Peter Lonard, then finished last in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf ($150,000) and last in the Target World Challenge ($130,000).
Do the math.
With no heavy lifting involved, Beem cashed in for $547,000. That's 18 percent of what he earned in 32 official tournaments worldwide this year.
And Beem didn't even finish in the top five on the silly-season money list.
First place went to Els, even though he played only once in the offseason. Els won the Nedbank Challenge in Sun City, which is no longer called the "Million Dollar Challenge" because the winner now gets $2 million.
Talk about the Big Easy.
His $2 million payoff was more than half of what Els won during the regular season.
No one took advantage of the silly season quite like Mark O'Meara, even though he has not won an official tournament since the 1998 British Open.
O'Meara got into the UBS Warburg Cup because of his age (45). He got into the Skins Game through a sponsorship deal (Toyota). He played in the Target World Challenge because his best buddy is the tournament host (Woods). He also played in the Shark Shootout.
His tally in four events: $775,000.
That's not a bad haul for a month of work, especially considering that O'Meara made only $730,132 in 24 events on the PGA Tour this year.
Another big winner was Padraig Harrington, who had his best year by earning $2.6 million, then made half that much in three unofficial events. He won the Target World Challenge, finished 11th in South Africa and tied for eighth with Paul McGinley in the World Cup.
Woods didn't exactly suffer.
He made $1,025,000 for seven rounds of golf: two at the PGA Grand Slam, one at the Skins Game, and a real marathon -- four rounds -- at his Target World Challenge.
That computes to $8,134.92 for every hole he played in the silly season, which is more than last-place money at most 72-hole events on the PGA Tour.
Even Phil Mickelson got in on the act. He won $695,000 in three events, despite hitting the ball all over the map in the first two tournaments.
The silly season isn't a complete joke.
The variety of formats -- stroke play, match play, team events, fathers and sons -- adds entertainment value. And some guys can build confidence going into the new season.
Just ask Harrington, who withstood a back-nine charge from Woods at Sherwood. There was nothing silly about that, even though it doesn't count as an official victory.
"I count it," the Irishman said. "Against Tiger? Yes. Against a world-class field? Yes."
Don't blame these guys for playing. Success in regular tournaments is what gets them into the silly season, a century-old practice. In the early 1900s, players wanted to win majors so they could play for big money in golf exhibitions.
Today's silly season stars have earned the right to take free money.
More power to them.