The battle between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour has reached the first of what will surely be many courtrooms.
U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman heard arguments from attorneys representing both the PGA Tour and a consortium of eleven LIV-affiliated players on Tuesday afternoon. Three LIV players – Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones – sought a temporary restraining order that would allow them to compete in this week’s tournament, the first event of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
However, after a two-hour hearing, Judge Freeman ruled that the players had not proved they would suffer “irreparable harm” if they were not allowed to play. She also indicated that the players were fully aware of the potential consequences of joining LIV when they did earlier this summer, and that they earned a large amount of monetary income as a result of their decision to play on the LIV tour. Therefore, the LIV players will not be in the field this week or the rest of the PGA Tour finals.
The temporary imprisonment of the players was only one part of a much bigger lawsuit that the LIV players, led by Phil Mickelson, brought against the Tour on antitrust grounds. That suit alleges that the PGA Tour engaged in anti-competitive conduct and forced other entities in the golf world — the major four, various vendors, courses — to shun LIV and its players. The Tour responded that it protects the interests of its members – the players – by keeping walls high against players from competing tours seeking, in the oft-repeated words of the Tour, to “have their cake and eat it too.”
During Tuesday’s hearing focused mainly on the narrow issue of the eligibility of the three players to play in the finals of the Tour – an event for which they had already qualified before leaving for LIV – and the lawyers of the players of LIV and the lawyers of the Tour previewed the arguments. that will play out in the coming months.
Judge Freeman appeared to be debating the extent of PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan’s power to suspend and otherwise control the fate of players on the Tour. On the other hand, she raised serious doubts about the level of antitrust violations at work here, given how successful LIV has been in attracting and retaining some of the biggest names in the sport. Five of the 10 most popular players on Tour, according to the Tour’s own metrics, have now joined forces with LIV.
Some significant revelations also emerged during the hearing, the most significant of which concerns the way at least some LIV players are paid. According to the players’ own lawyer, at least some LIV players have their tournament winnings deducted from their upfront payment – which, in effect, acts as an advance rather than an actual, discrete payment. So under that arrangement, a player who hypothetically received $10 million to play for LIV would have to earn $10 million in tournament purses before earning any more money on the LIV tour. That’s a significant and big difference from the way PGA Tour players are paid.
The FedEx St. Jude Classic, the first of the three-event FedEx Cup playoffs, begins Thursday. The next LIV Golf event is scheduled for early September in Boston.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
Contact Jay Busbee at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.