Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and nine other players involved with LIV Golf have filed suit against the PGA Tour, charging antitrust violations and alleging a wide-ranging pattern of coordinated behavior between the Tour and multiple other golf entities.
In the lawsuit, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, the players are challenging their suspensions from the PGA Tour, some of which extend into 2024. In addition, three players – Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones – are seeking a temporary restraining order to allow them to play in the Tour’s upcoming FedEx Cup playoffs, an event for which they had already qualified.
One of the more notable charges in the lawsuit involves Mickelson, who remains the most high-profile player on the LIV tour. The lawsuit indicates that the PGA Tour suspended Mickelson for two months on March 22, 2022, for, among other reasons, “attempting to recruit players to join [LIV Golf].” When Mickelson applied for reinstatement in June, the Tour extended that suspension to March 31, 2023, and later extended it another year, after Mickelson played in the first two LIV events. Mickelson at present cannot apply for reinstatement before March 31, 2024.
DeChambeau, the lawsuit contends, has been suspended through March 31, 2023, “for talking to other Tour members about the positive experience he had had with LIV Golf.” Other players, including Abraham Ancer, Gooch, Swafford and Ian Poulter, have been suspended through March 31, 2024.
“In effect, the Tour’s punishments amount to a lifetime ban,” the lawsuit states, “because the only chance for a player to be clear of the PGA Tour’s suspensions is to refrain from playing in any elite professional events — and thus essentially drop out of his profession.”
The lawsuit also contends that the Tour engaged in a pattern of coordinated attempts to restrict LIV players from competing in other events, such as the majors.
“In February, 2022 Augusta National representatives threatened to disinvite players from The Masters if they joined LIV Golf,” the lawsuit indicates. “In addition, Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley personally instructed a number of participants in the 2022 Masters not to play in the LIV Golf Invitational Series.”
However, multiple players, including past champions Charl Schwartzel, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia, played in the 2022 Masters and then joined LIV.
At the 2022 Masters, Ridley said that Mickelson had not been disinvited from the tournament. Mickelson at the time was on hiatus from golf and also – according to the lawsuit – under a PGA Tour suspension. Augusta National has not yet responded to a request from Yahoo Sports for comment.
“We did not disinvite Phil,” Ridley said in April. “He is a three-time Masters champion. … Phil reached out to me, I think in late February, early March and let me know he did not intend to play. That was by way of text. I thanked him for his courtesy of letting me know.”
In a letter to players obtained by Yahoo Sports, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan indicated that the Tour plans to contest the lawsuit “clearly and vigorously.”
“Fundamentally, these suspended players — who are now Saudi Golf League employees — have walked away from the Tour and now want back in,” Monahan wrote. “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.”
The lawsuit also charges that the PGA Tour “threatened companies and individuals in the golf and sports production industry that they will be blackballed from working with the Tour if they work with LIV Golf.” Vendors including providers of tents, technology and apparel either exited negotiations or did not enter them because of the fear of losing the PGA Tour’s business, the lawsuit states. The suit further indicates that both NBC and CBS have kept LIV at a distance because of existing relationships with the Tour.
LIV Golf has drawn notice because of its vast payouts to all players who compete in its events, as well as its significant upfront signing bonuses to marquee players such as Mickelson, DeChambeau and Johnson. However, the lawsuit contends that the upfront payouts were necessary to convince players to weather the storm of PGA Tour reprisals, and that such a business model is a threat to LIV’s long-term viability. LIV is backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which has already pledged $2 billion to LIV to build out a full league over the next three years.
Monahan’s letter to players did not discuss matters beyond the FedEx Cup playoffs except in general terms, instead focusing on the fate of players who are seeking to enter the playoffs.
“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,” he wrote. “The lawsuit they have filed somehow expects us to believe the opposite.”
The FedEx Cup playoffs begin next week in Memphis at the FedEx St. Jude Championship. LIV Golf’s next event is scheduled for Sept. 2-4 at The Oaks in Boston.
Contact Jay Busbee at [email protected] or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.