Most people spend the years from 18 to 22 at college studying for tests and then trying to find a decent job. These young adults have taken a different path. They have spent their years on the practice field, playing in championships, and signing endorsement deals.
1. Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy was born in Northern Ireland on May 4, 1989. McIlroy started learning the game of golf from his father at the age of 18 months and by age two was hitting 40 yard drives. At age seven he became the youngest club member at the Hollywood Golf Club which is still his home course today.
In 2006, he won the European Amateur Championship and topped the World Amateur Golf Rankings. At the age of 22, McIlroy won his first PGA Major tournament, wining the US Open by eight shots on his way to a record low score of 16-under par. This past weekend, McIlroy beat Anthony Kim on the first playoff hole of the Shanghai Masters, taking home a $2 million purse in the process. Before his US Open victory, McIlroy had four sponsorships with companies like Titleist and Oakley totaling $10 million. With his recent victories, experts predict McIlroy will topple Tiger Woods’ record of a $1 billion endorsement career.
2. Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby was born on August 7, 1987, making him 24 years old. In 2005, after winning back to back CHL Player of the Year Awards in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Crosby was one of the highest regarded draft picks in hockey history.
In his second season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he led the league in scoring making him the youngest player and only teenager to win a scoring league title in any major North American sports league.
That same season he also won two most valuable player awards, one as voted on by the NHL Players Association and one from the Professional Hockey Writers Association. In 2009, Crosby became the youngest captain to lead his team to Stanley Cup victory. In the 2010 Winter Olympics, Crosby scored the goal that led team Canada to their gold-medal winning victory over the United States.
Off the ice, Crosby holds the NHL’s richest endorsement deal thanks to his deal with Reebok and also has endorsements with Bell, Gatorade, and Tim Horton’s.
3. Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova was born on April 19, 1987. In 2004, at the age of 17, Sharapova defeated top seeded Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final for her first Grand Slam title. She has since gone on to win two more Grand Slam titles and 24 WTA singles titles. Since age 18, Sharapova has been ranked the number one female tennis player in the world four times.
Last summer, Sharapova was named the world’s highest paid female athlete by Forbes magazine, reportedly earning $24.5 million. This was thanks in large part to her endorsement deals with companies such as Prince, Gatorade, and Canon. In January 2010, Sharapova signed an eight year $70 million contract with Nike, the most lucrative deal for a female athlete in history.
4. Kevin Durant
Born on September 29, 1988 Kevin Durant is just 23 years old. He played just one year of college basketball at the University of Texas. The one year was enough. He was voted the Big 12 and the National Player of the Year of 2007. At 19, he entered the NBA Draft and was selected second overall by the Seattle Supersonics. With an NBA endorsement contract in hand, Durant went on to win the NBA Rookie of the Year award in 2008. In the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 seasons he won the league scoring title, becoming the youngest player in history to do so. He is a two time NBA All-Star and in 2010 won the FIBA World Championship MVP.
5. Michelle Wie
On October 11, 1989 the world welcomed Michelle Wie. Wie’s accomplishments as a professional golfer are somewhat suspect. However, her amateur accomplishments and the amount of “buzz” she has generated are enough to get her a spot on this list. Wie began playing golf at the age of four, and just six years later became the youngest player ever to qualify for the Women’s U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. At the age of 12, Wie won the Hawaii State Open Women’s Division by thirteen shots and become the youngest player to qualify for an LPGA Event. The next year, Wie became the youngest player to make an LPGA cut at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and went on to make the cut at the US Women’s Open that same year. In 2004, Wie became only the fourth female given a sponsor’s exemption into a PGA tour event. At the age of 16, Wie turned professional signing endorsement deals with Nike and Sony reportedly worth more than $10 million per year in the process.