When the PGA Tour began suspending players who chose to compete in the LIV Golf series, it was only a matter of time before things would make it to the courtroom. Last Wednesday, 11 LIV of those suspended LIV Golf players filed an antitrust lawsuit in the United States federal courts. These plaintiffs include major champions Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Dustin Johnson. Importantly, three of those eleven players are seeking a temporary injunction against the suspension so that they can compete in an upcoming PGA tournament. Besides the temporary injunctive relief requested, the plaintiffs have made a series of serious accusations against the PGA Tour.
Their main challenge: the PGA Tour is colluding with the majors
The PGA Tour has already banned LIV players from playing in PGA events. But the four majors are run by separate governing bodies, and those bodies have not yet announced bans of LIV players. That said, there has been significant pressure to ban LIV players from those events. The plaintiffs’ lawyers accuse the PGA Tour of unduly influencing those independent organisations. As they put it, the more they can cast doubt on LIV players being able to play in golf’s historically most important events, the more they can keep LIV from recruiting and retaining a “critical mass” of talent.
As in any court case, plaintiffs have to prove that they have been harmed. That is going to be difficult, as most of the players that have “defected” from the PGA Tour to join LIV golf have received sums ranging from 100 to 200 million USD. Moreover, they are competing for massive purses against a relatively weak and shallow crop of players, meaning their earning potential has increased considerably. Their league is what will suffer the real hardship, but the players themselves are the plaintiffs. That said, it seems difficult to imagine that the deep pockets of the Saudi regime will come up empty anytime soon. They reportedly offered Tiger Woods between 700 and 800 million USD to join the LIV Tour, according to LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman.
Sponsors and Hypocrisy
One of the fascinating aspects of this whole ordeal is that sponsors are reportedly pressuring players not to join LIV, due in part to their connection to the Saudi regime. But there is great hypocrisy in this supposed virtue signalling. As Norman put it, “The PGA Tour has about 27 sponsors, I think, who do 40-plus billion dollars’ worth of business on an annual basis in Saudi Arabia. Why doesn’t the PGA Tour call the CEO of those organisations [and say], ‘I’m sorry we can’t do business with you because you’re doing business with Saudi Arabia.’ Why are they picking on the professional golfers?” Norman also pointed out that one of the main sponsors of the women’s tour is Aramco, the Saudi Arabian Oil Company. Things are going to get even more political, judicial, and controversial before this whole sage plays out.