The biggest takeaways from the LIV golfers’ eye-opening lawsuit against the PGA Tour

As soon as the PGA Tour suspended players who competed in the rival LIV Golf Invitational Series, it seemed inevitable that the tours battle for the world’s top players would end in a courtroom.

On Wednesday, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and nine other LIV Golf players filed an antitrust lawsuit in federal court. Three of the players, Matt Jones, Hudson Swafford and Talor Gooch, are also seeking a temporary restraining order that would allow them to play in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

After a summer of drama, defections and mind-boggling developments, the gloves have officially fallen.

“I don’t like that they’re suing the PGA Tour because they’re also suing the players,” PGA Tour player Billy Horschel told ESPN on Wednesday. “We are the PGA Tour. I am the PGA Tour. Collin Morikawa is the PGA Tour. Justin Thomas is the PGA Tour. The 200+ members are the PGA Tour.”

Here are some of the biggest revelations from the lawsuit filed in federal court for the Northern District of California:

Is the PGA Tour colluding with the majors?

Lawyers representing the suspended players believe that the bans imposed by the PGA Tour on players joining LIV Golf “are significantly strengthened if the ban encompasses not only PGA Tour events, but also the four major tournaments”, which are organized by separate governing bodies.

“The Tour is aware that if it can prevent LIV Golf players from having access to these events – or even create sufficiently credible doubt as to whether participation in LIV Golf will end a player’s chances of playing at these events – LIV Golf will find it extremely difficult to recruit and maintain a critical mass of players to stage an elite-level competitive tour,” the lawsuit stated.

Lawyers for the players say the PGA Tour “lobbied and encouraged major organizations to join its group boycott and prevent LIV Golf from entering the global golf ecosystem.”

LIV players eligible to participate in major tournaments have been allowed to play this year.

Some of the leaders of the four governing bodies didn’t mince words about LIV Golf. PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh said as early as May 2021 that his organization is “fully supportive of the PGA Tour and the European Tour regarding the current professional gaming ecosystem.”

USGA CEO Mike Whan added to the US Open in June: “Could you imagine a day when it would be harder for some people doing different things to get into a US Open? I could. Will that be true? I don’t know, but I can definitely predict that day.”

At last month’s Open Championship in St. Andrews, R&A CEO Martin Slumbers told reporters that LIV Golf is “damaging the perception of the sport”.

Augusta National Golf Club president Fred Ridley, who oversees the Masters, hasn’t taken such a hard line, at least not publicly. But attorneys for the LIV golfers accused him of working behind the scenes at the PGA Tour as part of the trial.

The complaint states that representatives of Augusta National “threatened to uninvite Masters players if they joined LIV Golf.” He alleged that Ridley had ‘personally asked’ players at this year’s tournament not to defect to LIV Golf and that he had refused to sit down with LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman to discuss the business model. of the new circuit.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Slumbers and Ridley called Asian Tour CEO Cho Minn Thant “to threaten consequences related to Asian Tour’s position in the current ‘ecosystem’ if Asian Tour continued. to support LIV Golf and its LIV Golf Invitational Series.” The R&A took away the Asian Tour Order of Merit winner’s entry to The Open, according to the complaint.

Do LIV players stand a chance of winning in court?

One of the challenges for LIV Golf players, according to Craig Seebald, partner and antitrust expert at law firm Vinson & Elkins, is proving they are injured. Many players who left the PGA Tour for LIV Golf received guaranteed signing bonuses of between $100 million and $200 million.

“Normally when you represent plaintiffs you say, ‘Oh my God, our plaintiffs are so hurt. They are so hurt. They’re going broke,” Seebald said. “But the allegation in the complaint is that to get those players through the backboard to be part of LIV, they had to overpay them. They were surprised that they had to pay all these upfront payments to bring people in. I guess they say it makes it difficult for them to be viable in the long term, despite the Saudis giving them millions of dollars.”

Seebald thinks it will be difficult for the three LIV players seeking temporary restraining orders to participate in the FedEx Cup playoffs to obtain them. Seebald noted that the Northern District of California is a popular choice of location for antitrust plaintiffs. This is the same court that blew up the NCAA model of amateurism in the Ed O’Bannon case.

“I think there’s little chance they’ll do that. [issue a restraining order]“said Seebald. “It’s basically a matter of money. I think the court would say, “Look, we can settle the money later.” It’s a big deal. The judge might not want to step in without knowing many facts before doing something so extraordinary.”

Horschel, a member of the PGA Tour Players’ Advisory Committee, also questioned how LIV Golf players could claim they were hurt after receiving lucrative signing bonuses and competing for $25 million purses. .

“Why do they need to be on the PGA Tour?” said Horschel. “Why do they need a double dip? Why do they need to have their cake and eat it at the same time and kind of rub it in the face of every other player on the PGA Tour? That doesn’t just doesn’t make sense to me.”

LIV Golf almost teamed up with the DP World Tour

One of the most interesting revelations was that Saudi Golf representatives met with DP World Tour officials in Malta in July. During that meeting, according to the complaint, DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley “confirmed” the appeal and fit of the new series, but said the “mighty power” of the PGA Tour was its main issue and “the need to avoid a collision course between the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour.

“Under pressure from the ‘great power’ of the PGA Tour, the European Tour agreed to boycott and rejected the opportunity to partner with the newcomer, and instead strengthened its strategic alliance with the PGA Tour,” says the complaint.

Lawyers alleged that the PGA Tour pressured the DP World Tour to change its rules to prevent its players from participating in LIV golf tournaments. The DP World Tour has fined its players $125,000 and suspended them from events it co-sanctions with the PGA Tour, including the Scottish Open.

“The European Tour has accepted all requests from the PGA Tour to implement the boycott of the group,” the complaint states.

Mickelson was suspended in March

Mickelson’s controversial comments to author Alan Shipnuck about the Saudis being “a scary mother——” resulted in him spending four months away from golf. But part of his break wasn’t his own choosing.

The lawsuit said Mickelson, a six-time major champion, was first suspended for two months by the PGA Tour on March 22 for “attempting to recruit players for [LIV Golf]. An appeal committee upheld Mickelson’s suspension. His request for reinstatement about two months later was rejected because he had played in the first LIV Golf event in London.

“The Tour’s illegal conduct cost Mickelson endorsement deals and sponsorships,” the lawsuit said. “Notably, the Tour is the only regularly televised golf tour in the United States, and it brings in far more in sponsorship, advertising and broadcast revenue than any other golf tour.”

DeChambeau has signed twice with LIV Golf

DeChambeau, winner of the 2020 US Open and one of the most polarizing players in the game, was linked to LIV Golf long before signing on June 10.

According to the lawsuit, DeChambeau has signed twice with the Saudi-backed circuit. Due to “threats of punishment and career destruction” from the PGA Tour, LIV Golf has been unable to follow through on its plans for a league this season.

“Certain players (including plaintiff DeChambeau) who had previously signed contracts with LIV Golf were forced to publicly profess their loyalty to the Tour,” the lawsuit states. “Other players who had previously agreed in principle to all terms with LIV Golf informed LIV Golf that they could no longer sign, and instead publicly professed their loyalty to the Tour. Players who had been enthusiastic about the idea to join LIV Golf have informed LIV Golf that they unfortunately could not join in light of these threats.”

And the Ryder Cup?

The lawsuit claims that at the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, representatives of the PGA of America “privately threatened golfers and their representatives that they would be banned from future Ryder Cups and the PGA Championship if they joined LIV Golf”.

Waugh previously told reporters that American players must be members of his organization, through the PGA Tour, to compete in the Ryder Cup, which the PGA of America co-hosts with the DP World Tour.

Waugh repeated the organization’s stance during the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in May.

Zach Johnson, the captain of Team USA for the 2023 Ryder Cup in Rome, Italy, was asked in June if LIV players would be eligible for captain’s picks.

“The way we are members of the PGA of America is through the PGA Tour,” Johnson said. “I’ll let you connect the dots from there.”

In the complaint, lawyers representing the LIV players asked the judge to “[p]prevent the PGA Tour from conspiring or unlawfully agreeing with the European Tour to ban or threaten to ban players from participating in European Tour events or participating in the Ryder Cup for speaking, contracting, playing or partnering with LIV Golf.

PGA Tour vendors and sponsors don’t like LIV Golf

In what was perhaps the least surprising allegation in the complaint, several longtime suppliers and sponsors of the PGA Tour, including apparel, golf equipment, technology companies and golf courses, allegedly chose not to not do business with LIV Golf because of their relationship with the PGA Tour.

“LIV Golf attempted to enter into a business relationship with Dick’s Sporting Goods,” the lawsuit states. “In response, Dick’s Sporting Goods informed LIV Golf that”[g]iven our relationship with the PGA Tour and our Tournament [PGA Tour Champions tournament], [Dick’s Sporting Goods representatives] agree that it is better to pass now.”

The complaint said Ticketmaster was willing to work with LIV Golf, but pulled out of the deal “in response to pressure from the PGA Tour.”

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