Phil Mickelson and Other LIV Golfers File Antitrust Lawsuit 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 harmed when the Tour suspended them after they joined the Saudi-funded organization. The move has been expected since LIV emerged this year to challenge the PGA Tour’s pro golf supremacy.

Unlike some of the other players who went to LIV Golf, the 11 players who sued (Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, Matt Jones, Ian Poulter, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Pat Perez, Jason Kokrak and Peter Uihlein: They haven’t lost their PGA Tour membership, meaning they still hoped to play on both tours, but the PGA Tour didn’t give them permission to play in LIV tournaments and issued multi-year bans after they they did.

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The lawsuit alleges that the PGA Tour not only threatened golfers seeking to play in LIV tournaments, but also “threatened sponsors, vendors and agents to force players to abandon opportunities to play in LIV events. Golf”; “orchestrated a per se illegal group boycott with the European Tour to deny LIV Golf access to its members”; and “supported” groups that organize the four major golf championships, lobbying them to ban LIV golfers from competing in the sport’s highest-profile events.

“The Tour’s conduct serves no purpose other than to cause harm to players and to shut out the first significant competitive threat the Tour has faced in decades,” read the suit, which was filed in District Court. of the USA for the Northern District. of California in Oakland.

Mickelson, one of the world’s most beloved golfers and a six-time major tournament winner, has long been an advocate of starting a splinter organization, admitting to a biographer that he had helped pay for lawyers to draft its operating rules. The lawsuit alleges that the PGA Tour suspended Mickelson for at least two months on March 22, among other reasons, for “attempting to recruit players” to join LIV Golf. (Mickelson’s last PGA Tour event was in late January, before news of his LIV appearance broke.) Then, on June 20, he denied his reinstatement request, saying he violated PGA Tour rules by playing in the first ever LIV Golf 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 suit alleges.

“Mr. Mickelson’s illegal two-year suspension from the PGA Tour has caused him irreparable professional harm, as well as financial and business harm,” the suit says. Although Mickelson lost several sponsors after downplaying rights violations Saudi Arabian humans prior to LIV’s launch, he also received more than $100 million simply for joining the series, in which the 52-year-old played poorly in three events. He and the rest of LIV’s golfers are paid for very Too bad they play because LIV tournaments don’t have cuts.

In order for the LIV players’ lawsuit to succeed, they will need to show that they suffered actual damages and that the PGA Tour’s actions curtailed competition in violation of federal law. Jacob S. Frenkel, chairman of government investigations and securities enforcement at the Dickinson Wright law firm in Washington, told The Washington Post last week that proving harm “would not be particularly easy when they are being compensated in a way that can be greater than the maximum compensation on the PGA Tour.

“They made a personal decision to disassociate themselves from the PGA and join a competitive tour. They were not forced to do that,” Frenkel said. “As a participant on the PGA Tour, they also accepted certain standards, not only the organization’s standards, but also the standards of personal conduct.”

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Golfers on the PGA Tour must be given permission to play in non-sanctioned tournaments, and have traditionally been allowed three such instances each season (usually to play in events on the European Tour, which has an operating agreement with the PGA Tour). The lawsuit contends that the tour “weaponized” this “Conflicting Events Regulation” to prevent its golfers from playing in any unauthorized tournaments and that this system does not “allow for meaningful competition from other tours.”

The US Department of Justice is also investigating the PGA Tour for potential antitrust violations, according to the Wall Street Journal, which is at least the second time federal officials have investigated the tour’s dealings. In 1994, antitrust attorneys for the Federal Trade Commission tried to get the US government to strike down a rule requiring golfers to be given permission to play in contested events, and another that said players needed to get permission to appear in television programs not approved by the PGA Tour, because they created possible “unfair methods of competition”.

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 staff antitrust attorneys’ recommendation to take legal action against the PGA. Tour.

In the players’ lawsuit, three LIV golfers also request 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 an event that includes top 125 golfers. in the standings for the entire season. Golfers collect points based on their performances throughout the season, and the three dropouts – Gooch (#20 in the FedEx Cup standings), Jones (#62) and Swafford (#63), they would have been eligible for next week. St. Jude Championship had they not been banned by the PGA Tour after playing in LIV Golf events.

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

“Basically these suspended players, who are now employees of the Saudi Golf League, have left the TOUR and now they want to come back. With the Saudi Golf League on hiatus, they are trying to use lawyers to fight their way through the competition alongside our members in good standing,” read 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 listed and one with those golfers eliminated and players below them moved up. The latter will be used to determine the 125-player field for next week’s playoff opener, unless ordered by a judge.

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

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