Eleven golfers affiliated with the breakaway LIV Golf series have filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour, challenging its suspensions and other restrictive measures used to punish those who signed on to play in the Saudi-backed LIV events.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, argues that the PGA Tour is unfairly controlling players with anticompetitive restraints to protect its longstanding monopoly on professional golf.
The complaint — filed on behalf of Phil Mickelson and others — alleges that the tour had “ventured to harm” their careers and livelihoods. “The Tour’s unlawful strategy has been both harmful to the players and successful in threatening LIV Golf’s otherwise-promising launch,” it said.
The players Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones also sought an order to allow them to participate in the FedEx Cup playoffs, the PGA Tour’s season-ending championship events.
“The punishment that would accrue to these players from not being able to play in the FedEx Cup Playoffs is substantial and irreparable, and a temporary restraining order is needed to prevent the irreparable harm that would ensue were they not to be able to participate,” the complaint said.
A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series
A new series. The launch of new Saudi-financed LIV Golf series has resurfaced longstanding questions about athletes’ moral obligations and their desire to compete and earn money. Here’s what to know:
Ian Poulter, Pat Perez, Peter Uihlein, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Jason Kokrak and Bryson DeChambeau are also listed as plaintiffs.
The LIV Golf circuit is bankrolled by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, which is overseen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and has become a lightning rod for human rights campaigners who accuse Saudi Arabia of using sports to launder its reputation.
It has also caused a stir among professional golfers for upending the sport itself. The series has poached several prominent players from the PGA Tour with mammoth upfront payments and appearance fees. Mickelson, a six-time major-tournament winner, reportedly received $200 million.
Tiger Woods, who harshly criticized the LIV format and defectors from the PGA Tour by saying they “turned their back on what has allowed them to get to this position,” turned down an offer of about $700 million to join LIV, according to Greg Norman, the former championship golfer who is LIV’s chief executive.
In June, the PGA Tour suspended several players for participating in the rival golf series just moments after they had hit their first shots. In a letter, the PGA Tour’s commissioner, Jay Monahan, warned any members planning to participate in the future they could also expect banishment.
The lawsuit said that the PGA Tour, among other things, is preventing vigorous competition, depressing compensation and denying the LIV players the right to free agency for their services.
In a letter sent Wednesday to PGA Tour players, Monahan said that the tour had been preparing to contest the legal claims and to protect its membership.
“You should be confident in the legal merits of our position,” Monahan said. “Fundamentally, these suspended players — who are now Saudi Golf League employees — have walked away form the tour and now want back in.”
The players, he added, were attempting to force their way back into the PGA Tour through legal means. But allowing them back in, Monahan said, would compromise the tour and the competition to the detriment of the organization, players and fans.
He added: “The lawsuit they have filed somehow expects us to believe the opposite, which is why we intend to make our case clearly and vigorously.”
Bill Pennington and Michael Levenson contributed reporting.