Golf’s tour wars are finally headed to the courtroom.
On Wednesday, Phil Mickelson joined a group of 10 other LIV Golf pros in filing an antitrust suit against the PGA Tour, opening up a dramatic new theater in the battle for golf’s future.
The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in northern California and first reported by the Wall Street Journal, alleges the PGA Tour is acting unlawfully in the suspensions it has levied against LIV’s players. The group of 11 seeks to have their suspensions overturned and their playing privileges reinstated, while a smaller group of three players — Taylor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones — has petitioned the court to issue a temporary restraining order allowing their participation in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, which begin next week.
The LIV eleven — Mickelson, Gooch, Swafford, Jones, Bryson DeChambeau, Ian Poulter, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Pat Perez, Jason Kokrak and Peter Uihlein — each argue that the PGA Tour’s suspensions are unlawfully harmful to their careers.
“The Tour’s conduct serves no purpose other than to cause harm to players and foreclose the entry of the first meaningful competitive threat the Tour has faced in decades,” the suit says.
Shortly after the suit was made public, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan released a memo to players vowing to defend them and the Tour at large.
“It’s an attempt to use the Tour platform to promote themselves and to freeride off your benefits and efforts. To allow reentry into our events compromises the Tour and the competition,” Monahan said. “The lawsuit they have filed somehow expects us to believe the opposite, which is why we intend to make our case clearly and vigorously.”
The suit also reveals new information about Mickelson’s fraught relationship with the Tour. According to the filing, Mickelson was suspended by the Tour on March 22 for recruiting players to join LIV, two weeks to the day after Monahan refused to comment on Mickelson’s status with the Tour during his forceful “legacy, not leverage” press conference.
The filing is just the first of what is likely to be an onslaught of legal activity between the rival tours, both of whom have repeatedly stated their willingness to let the courts decide matters relating to their future. LIV has reportedly been readying its own antitrust suit alleging the PGA Tour participates in monopolistic business practices. The Department of Justice, which has taken an increased interest in antitrust cases under the Biden Administration, has opened an inquiry of its own into the PGA Tour.
A court decision could mark something of a line in the sand for the two warring leagues, but it also could also come with its own set of fallout. On Wednesday, U.S. Presidents Cup captain Davis Love III suggested that should the legal proceedings not go the Tour’s way, the PGA Tour’s constituency could stage a boycott of any event containing a LIV Golf player.
“If we say to the FTC and to Washington, ‘no, we support the rules, we don’t want those guys playing,’” Love III said. “We don’t care what the courts say. Our only option really, the nuclear option, is to say ‘well fine, if they have to play in our events, we just won’t play.’”
The first legal battles between lawyers for the players and the PGA Tour could take place as soon as this week. The first action item will surround Gooch, Swafford and Jones, each of whom wishes to compete in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, which begin next week in Memphis. Lawyers for the three players have asked the court for a temporary restraining order lifting their suspensions, arguing that Tour rules allow them to compete while undergoing the appeals process (the three players said they have filed appeals, and are still awaiting a hearing date with the Tour). Decisions for the remainder of the players listed in the suit, including Mickelson and DeChambeau, will come later.