By Homero De la Fuente and Jacob Lev, CNN
Six-time major champion Phil Mickelson and 10 other golfers from the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series filed an antitrust lawsuit on Wednesday challenging their suspensions by the PGA Tour.
Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones, who are three of 11 golfers listed in the lawsuit, are seeking a temporary restraining order that would allow them to play in the FedEx Cup Tour playoffs, which are set to begin next week.
“The Tour has ventured to harm the careers and livelihoods of all golfers…who have the temerity to challenge the Tour and play in tournaments sponsored by the newcomer. The Tour did so in an intentional and relentless effort to crush nascent competition before it threatened the Tour’s monopoly,” the complaint states.
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 play in PGA Tour tournaments.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit 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 ban players for life who compete in the LIV golf series, adding that the “unprecedented suspensions” had been imposed on them. The lawsuit also alleges that the PGA Tour threatened sponsors, vendors and agents to coerce players into giving up opportunities to play in LIV Golf events to gain access to their memberships.
In addition, the complaint states that the Tour has relied on other entities in golf’s “so-called ‘ecosystem’, including certain entities that put golf’s ‘majors’, to do its bidding in its efforts to maximizing threat and damage to any golfer who defies the monopolistic demands of the Tour 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 assert their rights as independent contractors to play wherever and whenever they choose,” LIV Golf told CNN in a statement. . “Despite the PGA Tour’s efforts to stifle competition, we believe golfers should be allowed to play golf.”
In response to the lawsuit, Monahan sent PGA Tour players a memo on Wednesday, saying golfers who walked away from the Tour “now want to come back” and promised the Tour would make its case “clearly and vigorously.”
“This is an attempt to use the TOUR platform to promote yourself and take advantage of your benefits and efforts,” Monahan wrote in the memo, obtained by CNN. “Allowing re-entry into our events compromises the TOUR and the competition, to the detriment of our organization, our players, our partners and our fans.”
Monahan continued, “It’s 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 that your former colleagues forgot an important aspect of this equation.
The lawsuit says the plaintiffs have “devoted the bulk of their professional careers to growing the PGA Tour.” The complaint also states that the Tour has done nothing but “reimbursed them lately with suspensions, punishments, threats and belittlement for simply playing professional golf for another promoter and kissing the competition. for their services”.
The lawsuit alleges that the Tour “deprived them of money-making opportunities, attacked their goodwill and reputation, interfered in their business, attacked their business partners, threatened them with egregious punishment – including threats of prevent them from participating in golf’s premier events, even when they have obtained placement or byes to participate in those tournaments – and have unlawfully prevented them from exercising their independent contractor rights.And, at every stage, the Tour repeatedly admitted that he did this to destroy the budding competition.
The US Department of Justice announced in July that it was investigating the PGA Tour for possible antitrust violations involving LIV Golf.
“It was not unexpected,” a PGA Tour spokesperson said in a statement at the time. “We went through that in 1994, and we’re confident of a similar outcome.”
The Justice Department declined to comment on Wednesday.
In June, Monahan indicated that LIV poses a serious threat to the success of the PGA Tour.
“If this is an arms race and the only weapons here are dollar bills, the PGA Tour can’t compete,” he said. “The PGA Tour, an American institution, cannot compete with a foreign monarchy that spends billions of dollars trying to buy golf.
“We welcome good and healthy competition. The LIV Saudi Golf League is not that. It is an irrational threat; one that is not concerned with ROI or the true growth of the game.”
According to the PGA Tour, any golfer who joined LIV Golf has been declared ineligible to play in the tournament 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 that 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 any involvement in Khashoggi’s murder.
The tour consists of eight events around the world. The first took place in June, in London. The most recent was this weekend at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated which golfers in the trial qualified for this year’s FedEx Cup playoffs. Not all players qualified.
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