Million-dollar payouts were unheard of 22 years ago when professional golfer Jim Furyk won his first tournament and US$270,000 in prize money. But learning to handle huge winnings and a fluctuating income has always come naturally to Furyk, whose conservative money management style matches his dedicated practice schedule.

Furyk says he had saved a little money himself and got help from his grandmother to pay for expenses during his first professional tour. “I grew up in Lancaster, Pa., which is a pretty conservative area, so when I first started earning money, I put it away for the future," says Furyk. “My father is careful with his finances and he helped me plan what to do with my money."

While Furyk benefitted from his family and community support, not all athletes are as grounded. According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, 78 percent of former NFL players are facing bankruptcy or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce within two years of retiring from the game.

But Furyk has no such worries about the future.


To help other athletes manage their incomes just as successfully, here are his top pieces of advice.

Put together a financial team 

“I always say you have to be either brilliant or stupid to play golf and I know where most of the players fall on that scale," jokes Furyk. “There are brighter people than I am who can handle my finances for me."

Furyk earned a degree in business at the University of Arizona while honing his golf game on the college team. Conscious from the beginning he might not play golf professionally forever; he has always made managing cash flow a priority. He also credits his business classes with preparing him to make smart financial choices.

Connect with a skilled advisor
Don’t have an RBC advisor and wish to find one? Get in touch with one.

Furyk says a friend recommended his RBC wealth advisor almost 20 years ago, someone Furyk has relied on for the majority of his investment decisions.

“It's important to seek good help from several people so you diversify the advice you get," he says. “Diversifying helps you avoid getting duped by scam artists, too."

Manage temptation

Some young golfers spend their winnings on luxuries like sports cars, but Furyk says he was never tempted to splurge on that particular trophy. “My dad invests in real estate and he always taught me put my money in homes, not to spend money on cars," he says.

There are ways to indulge in luxuries while spending wisely, however. For Furyk, private air travel is a priority—but he's found ways to keep the costs manageable.

“When I started in golf there were a handful of players wealthy enough to own their own plane or hire a charter plane to travel from one tournament to another," says Furyk.

“In the old days, a share of an airplane could cost $1 million easily. Now there are about 60 to 70 guys who fly privately, but it's possible to buy 25 hours at a time and share the plane hours with other golfers to make it a little less expensive."

Furyk says he's been buying hours on private planes for more than a decade because it saves a lot of time and aggravation spent in airports. “Paying for private air travel allows me to spend more time as a husband and a father," he says.

While airplane tickets, hotel rooms and paying for a caddy can add up fast for golfers, Furyk says he's fortunate that the sport offers a stable environment that isn't always there for other athletes.

“Golfers are usually surrounded by older members of golf clubs who are doctors or lawyers or other professionals who have some money and are willing to give advice or recommend trusted advisors," says Furyk.“That makes it easier to seek out professional financial help. The club I joined as a junior player in Pennsylvania had older members who gave me great advice and recommendations."

Above all, plan for uncertainty 

In sports like baseball and basketball, players have contracts and get paid regularly no matter how you play, but Furyk says, “In golf, you get paid if you play well and you don't get paid if you don't."

Furyk says he held onto his money from the beginning and put it in the bank as cash reserves for the future. “Some people get a windfall and get excited and don't realize that they could be heading into a bad six months or longer," he adds.

He credits his father, who is also his coach and mentor, with teaching him from the start to be careful with his earnings. “I hire trainers for fitness and to maintain my health. It only makes sense to hire professionals to handle my money."

This article first appeared on Forbes WealthVoice.