Ernie Els was South Africa's highest-earning sportsman in 2012, making 179 million rand ($18.2 million) last year, according to the country's Sunday Times newspaper.
The four-time major champion earned $14.7 million from endorsements and commercial work like golf course design, and the remaining $3.5 million in tournament winnings, boosted by his victory at the British Open, according to the rich list compiled by the newspaper.
The top four on the South African sports list were golfers. Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, made $9.8 million in 2012, Retief Goosen $6 million and Charl Schwartzel $5.9 million.
However, they are some way off Tiger Woods, whom Forbes magazine rated in June as global sport's highest-earning athlete during the preceding 12 months with $78.1 million.
The South African newspaper said its list was compiled using interviews with leading agents as well as figures from the U.S. PGA and other sports bodies.
While the Sunday Times' ranking underlined the earning power of golf, it also showed the financial pull of cricket's Indian Premier League and European and Japanese rugby clubs for South African sports stars.
Cricketer Jacques Kallis makes $305,000 a year playing for his country and $1 million a year from the IPL's Kolkata Knight Riders. Kallis was No. 6 on the list behind English Premier League footballer Steven Pienaar, who makes an estimated $5 million a year.
Seam bowler Chris Morris is the starkest example of how the IPL is the "land of milk and silly money," according to the paper. Morris makes $40,000 a season from his Johannesburg-based Lions team, but $625,000 from the IPL's Chennai Super Kings following this year's draft.
Rugby players are also profiting from deals with foreign clubs.
Springboks wing JP Pietersen rocketed into the top 10 after signing a $1.1 million per season contract with Japan's Panasonic Wild Knights. That deal was over five times more than what he makes a year in South Africa off his provincial and national contracts combined, the newspaper said.