Phil Mickelson, other LIV golfers file antitrust suit 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 their careers were hurt when the Tour suspended them after joining the Saudi-funded organization. The move had been expected since LIV emerged this year to challenge the supremacy of PGA Tour professional golf.

Unlike some of the other players who left for LIV Golf, the 11 players who filed the complaint – 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 lose their PGA Tour memberships, meaning they still hoped to play on both tours. But the PGA Tour did not give them permission to play in LIV tournaments and issued suspensions several years after they did.

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The lawsuit alleges that the PGA Tour not only threatened golfers who sought to play in LIV tournaments, but also “threatened sponsors, vendors and agents to coerce players into giving up opportunities to play in LIV Golf events.” ; “orchestrated a per se illegal group boycott with the European Tour to deny LIV Golf access to its members”; and “leaned on” groups that ran all four major golf championships, urging them to ban LIV golfers from the sport’s most high-profile events.

“The Tour’s conduct serves no purpose other than to cause harm to players and prevent the entry of the first significant competitive threat the Tour has faced in decades,” the lawsuit reads. , which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District. from California to Oakland.

Mickelson, one of the world’s most beloved golfers and a six-time major winner, has long been a proponent of creating a breakaway organization, admitting to a biographer that he helped pay lawyers to write his rules of the game. functioning. The lawsuit alleges that the PGA Tour suspended Mickelson for at least two months on March 22 for, among other reasons, “attempting 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.) He later denied his request for reinstatement on June 20, saying he had broken the rules of the PGA Tour by participating in the first LIV Golf tournament in London, and suspended it. until March 31, 2023. That suspension was extended until March 31, 2024, after Mickelson competed in LIV’s second tournament in Oregon, according to the lawsuit.

“Mr. Mickelson’s two-year unlawful suspension from the PGA Tour caused him irreparable professional harm, as well as financial and business harm,” the lawsuit states. Although Mickelson lost a number of sponsors after downplaying the Saudi human rights abuses before LIV launched, he also reportedly received more than $100 million just for joining the series, in which the 52-year-old performed poorly on three events. LIV golfers get paid no matter how badly they play because LIV tournaments have no discounts.

For the LIV players’ lawsuit to succeed, they would have to prove that they suffered actual harm and that the PGA Tour’s actions reduced competition in violation of federal law. Jacob S. Frenkel, president of government investigations and securities enforcement at the Dickinson Wright law firm in Washington, told the Washington Post last week that proving harm “wouldn’t be particularly easy when they’re compensated in a way that may be greater than the PGA Tour’s ultimate compensation.

“They made a personal decision to disassociate themselves from the PGA and join a competing tour. They weren’t obligated to do that,” Frenkel said. “As a PGA Tour participant, they also accepted certain standards, not just organizational standards, but also personal standards of conduct.”

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PGA Tour golfers must receive permission to play in non-sanctioned tournaments and were traditionally allowed three such instances each season (usually to play in European Tour events, which has an operating agreement with the PGA Tour ). The lawsuit argues that the Tour “weaponized” this “conflicting events rule” to prevent its golfers from playing in any unsanctioned tournament and that this system does not “allow for meaningful competition by other Tours.”

The US Department of Justice is also investigating the PGA Tour for possible antitrust violations, according to The Wall Street Journal, which is at least the second time federal officials have looked into the tour deals. In 1994, Federal Trade Commission antitrust lawyers tried to get the U.S. government to overturn the rule requiring golfers to be cleared to play in contentious events – and another that required players to obtain permission to appear on television programs not approved by the PGA Tour – because they have created possible “unfair methods of competition”.

But after intensive 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 staff antitrust lawyers. take legal action against the PGA Tour.

In the players’ lawsuit, three LIV golfers are also seeking a temporary restraining order that would allow them to play in the FedEx Cup season-ending playoffs, a three-tournament competition that begins next week with an event that includes the 125 top golfers. in the season standings. Golfers compile points based on their performances over the entire season, and the three defectors – Gooch (No. 20 in the FedEx Cup rankings), Jones (No. 62) and Swafford (No. 63) – would have been eligible for the next week. The St. Jude Championship had they not been banned by the PGA Tour after playing LIV golf events.

In a note to players sent Wednesday after the complaint was filed, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan called the three players’ attempt to advance to the FedEx Cup playoffs “an attempt to use the TOUR platform to promote yourself and enjoy your benefits and efforts.

“Basically these suspended players – who are now employees of the Saudi Golf League – have left the TOUR and now want to come back. With the Saudi Golf League on hiatus, they are trying to use lawyers to make their way into the competition alongside our members in good standing,” reads the memo, which was obtained by The Post.

There are two FedEx Cup ranking pages on the PGA Tour website, one with LIV golfers still included and another with those golfers retired and players below them progressed. The latter will be used to determine the field of 125 golfers for next week’s playoff opener, unless ordered by a judge.

After the first playoff tournament, the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings qualify for the BMW Championship, with the top 30 after this event going into the season-ending Circuit Championship. The winner of this tournament will receive $18 million, and golfers who finish the season at the top of the FedEx Cup points standings are generally accepted into the following year’s major championships.

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