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Australian golfing legend Greg Norman has been unveiled as one of the 25 highest-paid athletes in history.
The list, compiled by American sports data company Sportico and adjusted for inflation, has ‘the Great White Shark’, who won The Open in England twice in 1986 and 1993 as part of a decorated career, in 15th spot. His earnings of US$555 million over his career was increased to $815 million by present-day calculations.
As expected, American basketball icon Michael Jordan tops the list, with a whopping US$2.62 billion (adjusted from $2.05 billion) in career earnings.
The calculation takes into account both player salaries and earnings from outside the sport, with only an estimated six per cent of Jordan’s figure coming on the court for the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards. His much-publicised partnership with Nike continues to this day, the apparel company reportedly paying Jordan US$150 million in 2021, more than twenty years after retirement.
Norman’s fellow golfers also dominate the rich list, with Tiger Woods (second), Arnold Palmer (third) and Jack Nicklaus (fourth) all earning in excess of $1.3 billion (adjusted).
Among current athletes, Woods ranks ahead of football greats Cristiano Ronaldo (fifth) and Lionel Messi (eighth), current basketball legend LeBron James (seventh) and tennis royalty Roger Federer (tenth).
American tennis great Serena Williams is the highest-earning female athlete, but at $648 million earned, she could only sneak into the top 40.
Norman’s achievement is made all the more remarkable by the fact that, unlike many of the other names surrounding him on the rich list, he is widely considered to have underachieved in his golfing career. Much of his career earnings have been made outside his golfing.
Arguably his greatest claim to fame is his reputation as one of sport’s most infamous ‘chokers’, regularly falling heartbreakingly short of winning major titles at The Masters, the US Open, and the PGA Championship. He is one of only two players – the other Craig Wood – to have played in play-offs at all four major championships, losing at least one of each.
His most legendary choke was at the 1996 Masters, where he threw away a six-stroke lead heading into the final day to shoot a 78 and lose by five to Nick Faldo. “Of all the ones I’ve let get away, this was one I really did let get away,” Norman said of the loss. “This is not the end of my world. I lost this tournament, but I’m not a loser.”
But it was far from a one-off; in 1986, a journalist quipped Norman had won the ‘Saturday Slam’ after he held final-day leads in each of the four majors, winning only once.
Despite this, Norman was the number-one ranked player in the world four times between 1986 and 1990, before rising to the summit again in 1995. He was the first golfer to exceed $10 million in career earnings, and licensing of his ‘Great White Shark’ moniker, plus his charismatic personality and Australian good looks, has made him a major money-spinner even after retirement.
Putting the achievement into context, only Palmer and Nicklaus made the top 25 having turned pro before Norman in 1976; in an era in which sportsmen were only beginning to command the sort of major earnings we take for granted in modern times, the Shark could certainly rake it in.