PGA Tour responds to LIV's antitrust suit, looks to block players from playoffs
Eleven players on the breakaway LIV Golf tour have filed an antitrust suit against the PGA Tour. Three of them — Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones — have an immediate challenge: whether they will be permitted to play in the first round of the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin Thursday in Memphis.
On Monday morning, the PGA Tour responded, leaving no doubt about its stance and the likelihood of the players returning for the playoffs. After joining LIV, the players, the Tour responded in its filing, "now run into Court seeking a mandatory injunction to force their way into the TOUR’s season-ending FedExCup Playoffs, an action that would harm all TOUR members that follow the rules. The antitrust laws do not allow Plaintiffs to have their cake and eat it too."
The eleven LIV players, headed by Phil Mickelson, have alleged a range of improprieties on the part of the PGA Tour, including a wide-ranging pattern of coordinated behavior between the Tour and other significant golf entities. The players filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Northern California. The case is likely to take months or even years to resolve, though there are matters of a more immediate nature within.
The Tour's 32-page response focuses primarily on the three players attempting to compete in the FedEx Cup playoffs, for which they'd qualified prior to joining LIV. The players have claimed "irreparable harm" if they are not permitted to play.
The Tour, in its filing, disregarded those claims, since they are primarily based on monetary loss. "Despite knowing full well that they would breach Tour Regulations and be suspended for doing so," the filing reads, "Plaintiffs have joined competing golf league LIV Golf, which has paid them tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in guaranteed money supplied by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund to procure their breaches," adding that the Tour "has no duty to provide Plaintiffs and LIV a platform to freeride off the TOUR’s investments."
In the filing, the Tour noted that the players "have waited nearly two months (emphasis included) to seek relief from the Court, fabricating an 'emergency' they now maintain requires immediate action. It doesn’t. Their ineligibility for TOUR events was foreseeable when they accepted millions from LIV to breach their agreements with the TOUR, and they knew for a fact that they were suspended on June 9."
Although this filing focused primarily on the three players seeking entry into the playoffs, the Tour gave a hint as to its strategy in defending against the larger LIV lawsuit. "LIV is not a rational economic actor, competing fairly to start a golf tour," the Tour wrote. "It is prepared to lose billions of dollars to leverage Plaintiffs and the sport of golf to 'sportswash' the Saudi government’s deplorable reputation for human rights abuses." LIV is funded by the Saudi government's Public Investment Fund, which has already committed billions to growing the upstart league in the coming years.
The court is scheduled to hear the complaint on Tuesday afternoon. A similar complaint filed last month in Great Britain allowed several LIV players to compete in the Scottish Open prior to the Open Championship. LIV players' participation in future majors remains an open question.
The FedEx Cup playoffs run through late August, concluding at the Tour Championship in Atlanta. The next LIV Golf event is scheduled for early September in Boston.
Contact Jay Busbee at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.