How much can athletes really make in niche sports? A whole lot more than you might think. Disc golfer Paul McBeth set a new standard by signing an eight-figure endorsement contract—and his deal might only be the beginning.
When Paul McBeth first started playing in professional disc golf tournaments, he’d crisscross California in his father’s 1978 Dodge Ramcharger. His dad had mostly used it to rock-crawl in the desert outskirts of Los Angeles. The top of the SUV was sawed off and the side windows were smashed out. The doors were so dented they looked like topographic maps. The windshield was scarred, and the gas pedal was missing. When storm clouds gathered, Paul kicked a metal bar to the floor as he tried to outrun the rain.
His next few cars weren’t much nicer. When he was 19, he found out a friend was planning to dump an Infiniti I30 in the scrapyard and offered to pay him $500 for it. McBeth drove it from L.A. to Kansas City for the 2009 Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA) world championships and almost all the way back. It blew a gasket 30 minutes from his house. Then there was his Ford Thunderbird that overheated every half-hour on the highway, and his camper van that he thought would save him money on hotels but ended up costing him at the gas pump.
Finally, in 2011, after winning $4,000 for taking first place at the Memorial Championship in Scottsdale, Arizona, McBeth had saved enough money to buy a new car. He wanted a Jeep Patriot. The problem was the paperwork. “Under occupation, I put ‘professional athlete,’” McBeth says. “I guess they didn’t believe me because they wouldn’t let me finance it. I ended up having to buy the car with cash.”