Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and nine other players who defected to Saudi-funded LIV Golf filed an antitrust lawsuit Wednesday against the PGA Tour, the first step in a legal fight that could define the limits of where players can compete.
The suit, filed in US District Court in San Francisco, claims the PGA Tour has used monopoly power to try to crush competition and has wrongfully suspended players.
A separate motion has been filed seeking a temporary restraining order to allow Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford to play in the FedEx Cup playoffs, the PGA Tour’s postseason, which begins next week.
Monahan responded to the lawsuit with a terse memo to his players in which he referred to “11 of his former colleagues” suing the tour and went on to refer to LIV Golf as the “Saudi Golf League”.
Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is the main source of the money that pays outrageous signing bonuses and provides $25 million US purses for 48-man camps. Several players are in their 40s and are no longer ranked in the top 50 in the world.
PGA Tour players just got this message from Jay Monahan:
“Essentially, these suspended players, who are now employees of the Saudi Golf League, have left the Tour and now they want to come back.” pic.twitter.com/mjI3nTHEQ6
Monahan said the players knew the consequences of signing up for the rival league.
“We have been preparing to protect our membership and contest this latest attempt to disrupt our tour, and you should have confidence in the legal merits of our position,” Monahan wrote.
“Fundamentally, these suspended players, who are now employees of the Saudi Golf League, have walked away from the tour and now want to come back,” he wrote. “It’s an attempt to use the tour platform to promote themselves and take advantage of their benefits and efforts.”
“We believe that golfers should be allowed to play golf”
LIV Golf said in a statement: “Players are right to bring this action to challenge the PGA’s anti-competitive rules and to assert their rights as independent contractors to play where and when they choose. Despite the PGA Tour’s effort to stifle competition We believe that golfers should be allowed to play golf.”
Its CEO, Greg Norman, has said that LIV Golf would be willing to financially support any legal matter. Last month, four players from the European tour won a temporary stay from a UK judge that allowed them to play at the Scottish Open.
Mickelson reportedly signed a deal worth $200 million to join the Saudi-funded company, with DeChambeau in the $150 million range. And those are just signing bonuses. Seventeen players have already won more than $1 million in three or fewer tournaments.
The PGA Tour denied releases for players to compete in LIV events and suspended them as soon as they put a ball into play. Some players, such as Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Sergio Garcia, chose to forgo their PGA Tour membership.
At the heart of the lawsuit are allegations that the PGA Tour is using its power as golf’s strongest circuit to intimidate players and anyone else who might become involved with LIV Golf. He accused the tour of intimidating a tent seller and technology company, among others, with whom LIV Golf was trying to do business to launch its series.
“The Tour’s conduct has substantially diminished and impaired the entry of promoters who could significantly threaten the PGA Tour’s monopoly, which has gone unchallenged for decades,” the lawsuit states.
The tour has remained steadfast in its belief that it is a membership organization with regulations that players choose to accept. That includes a code of conduct and the requirement to play at least 15 tournaments a year to maintain full membership.
Players are typically allowed three pitches a year to play overseas events that take place the same week as a PGA Tour tournament. The tour does not allow releases for conflicting events in North America.
Monahan has been blunt in his comments on LIV Golf, referring in June to the tour not being able to compete with “a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to buy the game of golf.”
“We welcome healthy and good competition. LIV Saudi Golf League is not that,” he said. “It’s an irrational threat, one that doesn’t care about the return on investment or the true growth of the game.”