PGA Tour responds to LIV antitrust complaint, seeks to block playoff players

Eleven breakaway LIV Golf Tour players have filed an antitrust complaint against the PGA Tour. Three of them – Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones – have an immediate challenge: whether they will be allowed to play in the first round of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin Thursday in Memphis.

On Monday morning, the PGA Tour responded, leaving no doubt about its position and the likelihood of players returning for the playoffs. After joining LIV, the players, the Tour responded in its filing, “have now faced court seeking a mandatory injunction to fight their way into the TOUR’s season-ending FedExCup playoffs, an action that would harm to all TOUR members who follow the rules. Antitrust laws don’t allow plaintiffs to have their cake and eat it too.”

LIV’s eleven players, led by Phil Mickelson, have alleged a series of improprieties on the part of the PGA Tour, including a wide range of coordinated behavior between the Tour and other important golf entities. The players filed suit in the US District Court in Northern California. The case will likely take months, if not years, to resolve, although there are issues of a more immediate nature within.

The Tour’s 32-page response focuses primarily on the three players trying to make the FedEx Cup Qualifiers, which they had qualified for before joining LIV. The players have claimed “irreparable harm” if they are not allowed to play.

Le Tour, in its filing, ignored these claims, as they are primarily based on monetary loss. “Despite knowing full well that they would violate Tour rules and be suspended for it,” the filing states, “the plaintiffs joined rival golf league LIV Golf, which paid them dozens and hundreds of millions of dollars in guaranteed money provided by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund to procure their defaults,” adding that the Tour “has no obligation to provide the plaintiffs and LIV with a platform to circumvent the TOUR investments”.

In the filing, the Tour noted that players “waited almost two months (emphasis included) to seek redress from the Court, the fabrication of an “emergency” they now maintain requires immediate action. This is not the case. Their ineligibility for TOUR events was predictable when they accepted millions of LIVs to break their agreements with TOUR, and they knew full well that they were suspended on June 9.”

While this filing primarily focuses on the three players looking to make the playoffs, the Tour has given a clue about its defense strategy against LIV’s larger lawsuit. “LIV is not a rational economic player, competing fairly to start a golf tour,” the Tour wrote. “He is willing to lose billions of dollars to take advantage of plaintiffs and the sport of golf to ‘sport’ the Saudi government’s deplorable reputation for human rights abuses.” LIV is funded by the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund, which has already committed billions to develop the upstart league in the coming years.

The court is due to hear the complaint on Tuesday afternoon. A similar complaint filed last month in Britain allowed several LIV players to play in the Scottish Open ahead of The Open Championship. The participation of LIV players in future majors remains an open question.

The FedEx Cup playoffs run through the end of August and end at the Tour Championship in Atlanta. The next LIV Golf event is scheduled for early September in Boston.

Talor Gooch, seen here with former President Donald Trump at the LIV Golf event in New Jersey, is one of three players looking to join the PGA Tour playoffs.  (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Talor Gooch, seen here with former President Donald Trump at the LIV Golf event in New Jersey, is one of three players looking to join the PGA Tour playoffs. (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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Contact Jay Busbee at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.

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