Phil Mickelson, Other LIV Golfers File Antitrust Case Against PGA Tour

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Eleven golfers from the fledgling LIV Golf Invitational Series have filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour, arguing that their careers were damaged when the Tour suspended them after joining the Saudi-funded breakaway league. The move was expected since LIV emerged this year to challenge the PGA Tour’s professional golf supremacy.

Unlike some of the other players who left for LIV Golf, the 11 players who filed the lawsuit: Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, Matt Jones, Ian Poulter, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Pat Perez, Jason Kokrak and Peter Uihlein – didn’t forfeit their PGA Tour membership, meaning they still hoped to play on both tours. But the PGA Tour did not allow them to play in LIV tournaments and then imposed several years of suspensions.

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The lawsuit alleges that the PGA Tour not only threatened golfers who wanted to play in LIV tournaments, but also “threatened sponsors, vendors and agents to force players to forgo the opportunity to play in LIV Golf events”; “orchestrated a per se unlawful group boycott with the European Tour to deny LIV Golf access to their members”; and “leaned on” groups that hosted the four major golf championships and pressured them to ban LIV golfers from participating in the sport’s most high-profile events.

“The Tour’s actions have no purpose other than to harm players and cut off access to the first significant competitive threat the Tour has faced in decades,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court. northern district. from California.

Mickelson, one of the world’s best-loved golfers and a six-time major winner, has long been a proponent of starting a breakaway competition, admitting to a biographer that he helped pay lawyers to draft the work rules. The lawsuit alleges that the PGA Tour suspended Mickelson for at least two months on March 22, including for “attempts to recruit players” to join LIV Golf. (Mickelson’s last PGA Tour event was in late January, before news of his involvement with LIV broke.) Subsequently, his application for reinstatement was rejected on June 20, saying he had violated PGA Tour rules by playing in LIV Golf’s first tournament in London, and suspended him until March 31, 2023. That suspension was extended until March 31, 2024, after Mickelson played in LIV’s second tournament in Oregon, the lawsuit says.

Mr. Mickelson’s unlawful two-year suspension from the PGA Tour has caused him irreparable professional harm, as well as financial and commercial harm,” the lawsuit reads. , he has also reportedly received more than $100 million simply for entering the league, in which the 52-year-old played poorly in three events, and he and the rest of the LIV golfers are paid no matter how poorly they play, as there are no cuts to LIV tournaments.

In order for the LIV players’ lawsuit to succeed, they must prove that they actually suffered harm and that the PGA Tour’s actions reduced competition, in violation of federal law. Jacob S. Frenkel, the chairman of government investigations and securities enforcement at Washington law firm Dickinson Wright, told The Washington Post last week that proving damages “wouldn’t be particularly easy if they’re compensated in a way that could be greater than the ultimate compensation from the PGA Tour.”

“They have made a personal decision to distance themselves from the PGA and join a competitive tour. They weren’t forced to do that,” Frenkel said. “As a participant in the PGA Tour, they also agreed to certain standards, not just organizational standards, but also standards of personal conduct.”

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PGA Tour golfers must be allowed to play in unsanctioned tournaments, and traditionally they were allowed to play three such cases each season (usually to play in events on the European Tour, which has an operating agreement with the PGA Tour). The lawsuit alleges that the tour “armed” this “Conflicting Events Regulation” to prevent its golfers from playing in an unsanctioned tournament, and that this system “does not allow meaningful competition from other tours.”

The U.S. Department of Justice is also investigating the PGA Tour for possible antitrust violations, according to the Wall Street Journal, marking at least the second time federal officials have looked at tour transactions. In 1994, antitrust attorneys at the Federal Trade Commission tried to get the U.S. government to overturn a rule that requires golfers to be allowed to play in conflicting events — and another that said players should be allowed to appear on television programs that aren’t. have been approved by the PGA Tour – because they have created possible “unfair competition methods”.

But after extensive lobbying by then Commissioner Tim Finchem – a former official in President Jimmy Carter’s administration – the four FTC commissioners voted unanimously to reject the recommendation of the staff antitrust attorneys to take legal action against the PGA Tour.

In the players’ lawsuit, three LIV golfers are also requesting a temporary restraining order that would allow them to play in the season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs, a three-tournament competition that begins next week with a event consisting of the best 125 golfers in the season standings. Golfers accumulate points based on their performance throughout the season, and the three defectors – Gooch (No. 20 in the FedEx Cup standings), Jones (No. 62) and Swafford (No. 63) – would have qualified for next week’s game. FedEx St. Jude Championship they were not banned from the PGA Tour after playing in LIV Golf events.

In a memo sent to players Wednesday after the lawsuit was filed, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan called the three players’ attempt to access the FedEx Cup playoffs “an attempt to use the TOUR platform.” to promote themselves and to take advantage of your benefits and efforts.”

“Essentially, these suspended players – who are now employees of the Saudi Golf League – have run away from the TOUR and now want to rejoin. With the Saudi Golf League on hiatus, they are trying to use lawyers to make their way into the competition. force alongside our members in good standing,” reads the memo, obtained by The Washington Post.

There are two FedEx Cup standings pages on the PGA Tour website, one with the LIV golfers still standing and another with those golfers who have been eliminated, and the players below them have risen. The latter will be used to determine the field of 125 golfers for next week’s playoff opener, subject to a court order.

After the first playoff tournament, the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings will advance to the BMW Championship, and the top 30 will participate in the season-closing Tour Championship after that event. The winner of that tournament will receive $18 million, and golfers who finish the season high in the FedEx Cup points standings are generally admitted to the following year’s major championships.

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