Phil Mickelson, 10 other LIV golfers file antitrust lawsuit against PGA Tour

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11 LIV golfers file antitrust lawsuit against PGA Tour originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Phil Mickelson and 10 other players from LIV Golf filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour on Wednesday over their suspensions for participating in the Saudi-funded breakaway series.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the news of the lawsuit.

Bryson DeChambeau, Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, Matt Jones, Ian Poulter, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Pat Perez, Jason Kokrak and Peter Uihlein are the other LIV golfers joining Mickelson in the suit challenging their indefinite suspensions from the Tour. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

“The Tour’s conduct serves no purpose other than to cause harm to players and foreclose the entry of the first meaningful competitive threat the Tour has faced in decades,” the lawsuit says.

Three of the 11 golfers -- Gooch, Jones and Swafford -- also applied for a temporary restraining order in the hopes of being allowed to compete in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, which get underway next week with the St. Jude Championship in Memphis. The top 125 golfers in the FedEx Cup standings are invited to compete in the playoffs, which take place over three events and have a total bonus pool purse of $75 million. Ancer, Ortiz, Perez, Brooks Koepka and Matt Wolff are the other LIV golfers inside the top 125 of the FedEx Cup standings who are ineligible to compete.

The motion said Gooch, Jones and Swafford submitted appeals to the PGA Tour to partake in the playoffs, and that the Tour violated its own disciplinary process by not allowing them to compete while the appeals are pending.

In early July, three LIV golfers -- Poulter, Justin Harding and Adrian Otaegui -- won a stay in a British court that allowed them to compete in the Scottish Open, which the DP World Tour (formerly known as the European Tour) had suspended them from. The Scottish Open was the first DP World Tour event ever co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

“The purpose of this action is to strike down the PGA Tour’s anticompetitive rules and practices that prevent these independent-contractor golfers from playing when and where they choose,” the motion says.

Shortly after LIV Golf's inaugural event began in London on June 9, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced suspensions for any player who competes in the rival league. Some players, such as Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Louis Oosthuizen, surrendered their PGA Tour memberships as they jumped to LIV Golf, while others like Mickelson and DeChambeau hoped they would be allowed back on the Tour.

Big names have continued to join LIV Golf despite the PGA Tour's hard-line stance, with DeChambeau, Koepka, Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed among the golfers who have defected since.

The lawsuit even alleges that Mickelson was suspended by the Tour in March for recruiting players to join LIV Golf, among other reasons. Mickelson went several months without competing earlier this year after his controversial comments about the PGA Tour's "obnoxious greed" and Saudi Arabia's record of human rights violations were published. The inaugural LIV Golf event was Mickelson's first competition since early February.

The lawsuit says Mickelson applied for reinstatement in June, but the Tour denied it due to the fact that he competed in LIV Golf's first event. The Tour said he was not allowed to apply for reinstatement again until March of 2023, which was then extended to March of 2024 after he played in LIV Golf's second event. It's unclear if his reinstatement eligibility was pushed back yet again after he competed in LIV Golf's third tournament last week in Bedminster, N.J.

The WSJ reported, citing people familiar with the PGA Tour's thinking, that the Tour is likely to respond to the antitrust lawsuit by arguing that "LIV and its golfers are seeking to 'free ride' on value created by the collective efforts of participants in the Tour and that the Tour does not have to cooperate with a competitor."

As for the temporary restraining order, the Tour reportedly is expected to argue that "the players do not face a real emergency; have known about the situation for some time; should not be rewarded for filing at the last minute; and that letting them in would mean other players lose out."

The PGA Tour is also being investigated by the Department of Justice over whether it has engaged in anticompetitive behavior with how it's handled LIV golfers. This isn't the first time the PGA Tour has been the subject of a federal antitrust probe, as it was investigated by the Federal Trade Commission in the 1990s. That investigation was ultimately dropped, and the Tour is confident in a similar result this time around.

“This was not unexpected,” a Tour representative told CNBC last month. “We went through this in 1994 and we are confident in a similar outcome.”