The battle between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour has reached the first of what is sure to be many courtrooms.
U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman heard arguments Tuesday afternoon from attorneys representing both the PGA Tour and a consortium of eleven LIV-affiliated players. Three LIV players – Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones – were seeking a temporary restraining order that would allow them to play 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 proven that they would suffer “irreparable harm” if they were not allowed to play. She also said players were fully aware of the potential consequences of joining LIV when they did so earlier this summer, and had earned a substantial amount of purse income as a result of their decision to play on the LIV tour. As a result, LIV players will not be on the court this week or for the remainder of the PGA Tour Playoffs.
The players’ temporary restraining order was only part of a much larger trial which the LIV players, led by Phil Mickelson, brought against the Tour on antitrust grounds. This lawsuit accuses the PGA Tour of engaging in anti-competitive behavior and coercing other entities in the world of golf – the four majors, various suppliers, courses – to shun LIV and its players. The Tower responded that it protects the interests of its members – the players – by keeping the walls high against players on competing tours who seek, in the oft-repeated words of the Tour, “to have their cake and eat it too”.
While Tuesday’s hearing focused primarily on the narrow issue of the three players’ eligibility to play in the Tour playoffs – an event they had already qualified for before leaving for LIV – the attorneys LIV players and Tour lawyers have previewed the arguments that will be in play in the coming months.
Judge Freeman appeared to challenge the extent of PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan’s power to suspend and otherwise control the fates of Tour players. On the other hand, she raised significant doubts about the level of antitrust violation at work here, given LIV’s success in attracting and retaining some of the biggest names in the sport. Five of the Tour’s 10 most popular players, by the Tour’s own metrics, have now joined forces with LIV.
Some important revelations also surfaced during the hearing, the biggest of which relates to how at least some LIV players are paid. According to the players’ own attorney, at least some LIV players are having their tournament winnings deducted from their initial payout – which, in effect, functions as an advance rather than an actual, discrete payout. So under this arrangement, a player who hypothetically received $10 million to play for LIV would have to earn $10 million in tournament prize money before earning any additional money on the LIV Tour. This is a significant and substantial difference from how PGA Tour players are paid.
The FedEx St. Jude Classic, the first of three 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.