By Homero De la Fuente and Jacob Lev, CNN
Six-time major champion Phil Mickelson and 10 other golfers on the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series filed an antitrust lawsuit Wednesday to challenge their suspensions by the PGA Tour.
Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones, who are three of the 11 golfers listed on the lawsuit, are seeking a temporary restraining order that would allow them to play in the Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs, which is set to begin next week.
“The Tour has ventured to harm the careers and livelihoods of any golfers…who have the temerity to defy the Tour and play in tournaments sponsored by the new entrant. The Tour has done so in an intentional and relentless effort to crush nascent competition before it threatens the Tour’s monopoly,” the complaint says.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced in June that golfers playing in the controversial breakaway series were suspended and would no longer be eligible to participate in PGA Tour tournaments.
The lawsuit plaintiffs also include Bryson DeChambeau, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Ian Poulter, Pat Perez, Jason Kokrak and Peter Uihlein.
The lawsuit says the PGA Tour threatened to place lifetime bans on players who participate on the LIV golf series, adding that the “unprecedented suspensions” were placed upon them. The suit also alleges the PGA Tour has threatened sponsors, vendors and agents to coerce players to abandon opportunities to play in LIV Golf events access to their members.
In addition, the complaint states the Tour has leaned on other entities in the “so-called golf ‘ecosystem’ including certain entities that put golf’s ‘Major’s,’ to do its bidding in its effort to maximize the threats and harm to any golfer who defies the Tour’s monopolistic requirements and plays in LIV Golf events.”
“The players are right to have brought this action to challenge the PGA’s anti-competitive rules and to vindicate their rights as independent contractors to play where and when they choose,” LIV Golf told CNN in a statement. “Despite the PGA Tour’s effort to stifle competition, we think golfers should be allowed to play golf.”
In response to the lawsuit, Monahan sent PGA Tour players a memo Wednesday, saying that the golfers who walked away from the Tour now “want back in” and pledged that the Tour will make its case “clearly and vigorously.”
“It’s an attempt to use the TOUR platform to promote themselves and to freeride on your benefits and efforts,” Monahan wrote in the memo, obtained by CNN. “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.”
Monahan continued, “This is your TOUR, built on the foundation that we work together for the good and growth of the organization…and then you reap the rewards. It seems your former colleagues have forgotten one important aspect of that equation.”
The lawsuit says the plaintiffs have “devoted the bulk of their professional careers to growing the PGA Tour.” The complaint also states the Tour has done nothing but “repaid them of late with suspensions, punishments, threats, and disparagement for merely playing professional golf for another promoter and embracing competition for their services.”
The lawsuit alleges that the Tour has “denied them income-earning opportunities, attacked their goodwill and reputation, interfered with their businesses, attacked their business partners, threatened them with egregious punishment — including threats to deny them from participating in golf’s marquee events, even when they have earned placement or exemptions to participate in those tournaments — and unlawfully prevented them from exercising their independent contractor rights. And, at every step, the Tour has repeatedly admitted that it has done this to destroy nascent competition.”
The US Justice Department announced in July it was investigating the PGA Tour over possible antitrust violations involving LIV Golf.
“This was not unexpected,” a PGA Tour spokesperson said in a statement at the time. “We went through this in 1994, and we are confident in a similar outcome.”
The Justice Department on Wednesday declined to comment.
In June, Monahan indicated LIV represents a serious threat to the success of the PGA Tour.
“If this is an arms race and if the only weapons here are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can’t compete,” he said. “The PGA Tour, an American institution, can’t compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to buy the game of golf.
“We welcome good, healthy competition. The LIV Saudi Golf League is not that. It’s an irrational threat; one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game.”
According to the PGA Tour, any golfer that joined LIV Golf was ruled ineligible to participate in tournament play since early June.
The LIV Golf series is backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) — a sovereign wealth fund chaired by Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the man who a US intelligence report named as responsible for approving the operation that led to the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Bin Salman has denied involvement in Khashoggi’s murder.
The tour consists of eight events across the world. The first one was held in June, in London. The most recent was held over the weekend at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated which golfers in the lawsuit qualified for this year’s FedEx Cup Playoffs. Not all of the players qualified.
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