Phil Mickelson among 11 LIV Golf stars challenging PGA Tour bans with antitrust lawsuit

This was always going to end in a lawsuit between Phil Mickelson — among others — and the PGA Tour, and that day has arrived. A group of 11 LIV Golf League stars has filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour with the hope that it would allow them to play the Tour again — and potentially soon. Several golfers would still be eligible for next week’s FedEx Cup Playoffs, which they are petitioning to play, with a favorable ruling.

After several of its golfers left the PGA Tour for LIV Golf in June, the PGA Tour suspended them and boxed them out of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, which many would qualify for despite not playing PGA Tour events for two months. Mickelson’s suspension, however, runs deeper than that, according to the Wall Street Journal. After his provocative comments about Saudi Arabia and the LIV Golf League in February, the Tour apparently suspended him in March:

The lawsuit also provides new details about Mickelson’s status on Tour, which had been the subject of significant intrigue after he stopped playing in the wake of controversial comments regarding Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights that were published earlier this year.

The lawsuit says Mickelson was suspended by the PGA Tour back in March for allegedly recruiting players to play for LIV, among other reasons, and that his appeal was denied. When he applied for reinstatement in June, the suit says, the Tour denied it based on his participation in the first LIV event that month outside London. It said he was prohibited from applying for reinstatement until March 2023, which was extended until March 2024 after he played the second LIV event.

The PGA Tour normally allows for up to three waivers for players to play on other tours and has consistently allowed players to play on other tours with a waiver. It did not for the first LIV event, though, and Golf Channel pointed out the language in its bylaws that may have been the reason why. Players, it says, may be denied waivers to play if “such a release would cause [the Tour] to be in violation of a contractual commitment to a tournament sponsor, or would otherwise significantly and unreasonably harm [the Tour] and such sponsors.”

LIV Golf is clearly trying to wipe out the PGA Tour, and it is paying players exorbitant sums of money to accomplish this. Mickelson, DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson all reportedly got nine figures. Tiger Woods was apparently offered nearly $1 billion to join, which he turned down. LIV golfers are actually using this against the PGA Tour in their lawsuit.

“LIV Golf had been preparing to bring an antitrust challenge against the PGA Tour, even before it launched, arguing that the PGA Tour has monopoly power in the golf market and is using that power to try to exclude an upstart challenger, by trying to restrict or drive up the price of LIV’s access to players,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

One problem here is that golfers are trying to cherry-pick what PGA Tour events they want to play without actually helping build the PGA Tour on a week to week basis. LIV golfers would say this is the right of an independent contractor, and in fact they did say that in the lawsuit, which states “The purpose of this action is to strike down the PGA Tour’s anticompetitive rules and practices that prevent these independent-contractor golfers from playing when and where they choose.”

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan sees it differently, however, and he addressed this in a memo to players that was disclosed shortly after news of the lawsuit dropped:

Fundamentally, these suspended players — who are now Saudi Golf League employees — have walked away from the Tour and now want back in. With the Saudi Golf League on hiatus, they’re trying to use lawyers to force their way into competition alongside our members in good standing. It’s an attempt to use the Tour platform to promote themselves and to freeride on your benefits and efforts. To allow reentry into our events compromises the Tour and the competition, to the detriment of our organization, our players, our partners and our fans. The lawsuit they have filed somehow expects us to believe the opposite, which is why we intend to make our case clearly and vigorously.

Whether players are allowed to play both tours remains to be seen, but we should have an answer quickly on whether players are allowed to play in next week’s FedEx Cup Playoffs. There’s recent precedent here, too. Ian Poulter and two other golfers were allowed to play in the Scottish Open despite being banned by the DP World Tour. A stay was granted just before the tournament started. Perhaps the same thing could apply in this situation.

Interestingly, players like Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson — all of whom left for the LIV Golf League — resigned their membership altogether and are not part of this lawsuit, nor are they eligible for the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

LIV Golf’s next event takes place in Boston at the beginning of September after the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

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