War between PGA Tour and LIV Golf goes to court as battle turns ugly
The PGA Tour asked a federal judge in San Francisco to deny the appeal of three suspended players who joined Saudi-backed LIV Golf and now want to compete in the tour’s lucrative postseason, arguing the players knew the consequences two months ago.
Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford are seeking a temporary restraining order. They are among 10 players who filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour last week.
The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday morning (AEST) in San Jose, California, two days before the first of three FedEx Cup playoff events in the chase for the $25.7 million top prize.
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The FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis, Tennessee, has a $21.5 million purse, and the top 70 players advance to the second postseason event in Wilmington, Delaware.
Gooch (No.20), Jones (No.65) and Swafford (No.67) are among nine players who have joined LIV Golf and finished the regular season among the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings. The other six who joined LIV Golf are not asking to play in the tour’s postseason.
In a court filing to oppose the temporary restraining order, the tour argued antitrust laws do not allow the three players “to have their cake and eat it, too.”
Gooch, Swafford and Jones used the same phrase in separate, legal-heavy letters to tour officials last month in protesting their suspensions and claiming the regulations were onerous and kept them from playing elsewhere.
Greg Norman heads up the LIV Golf Tour. (Getty)
“I am a free agent and independent contractor. The Tour cannot have its cake and eat it too by trying to control me as one might an employee, while not providing me the rights and benefits an employee would receive,” each letter said.
The PGA Tour argued in its opposing motion, “Despite knowing full well that they would breach TOUR Regulations and be suspended for doing so, Plaintiffs have joined competing golf league LIV Golf, which has paid them tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in guaranteed money supplied by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.”
LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman said in a statement, “I believe players have the right to play when and where they choose so their talents can take them as far and high as possible.”
“I believe all players — whether they choose to play with LIV or the PGA Tour — understand and appreciate the purpose and importance of the players’ legal actions, across the globe,” Norman said. “The PGA Tour is trying to cast this as ‘us’ against ‘them.’ The players know better.”
The three players were not among the highest-sought players for Norman’s rival league, though they were among the initial group of players who signed with LIV Golf. Gooch was the only one among the top 50 in the world, mainly from his only PGA Tour win last November.
Australia’s Matt Jones is one of the players taking action against the PGA Tour. (Getty)
“Plaintiffs have waited nearly two months to seek relief from the Court, fabricating an ’emergency’ they now maintain requires immediate action,” the filing said. “It doesn’t.”
The tour contends players knew they would be ineligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs “when they accepted millions from LIV to breach their agreements” with the tour.
Players were not suspended until they actually teed off in a LIV Golf event.
The LIV Golf events, with a 48-man field, consist of 54 holes and offer $35.8 million in total prize money for each event. Seventeen players already have earned $1.4 million or more in three or fewer events. Five more events remain on this year’s schedule, and LIV Golf already has announced a 14-tournament schedule for 2023.
The next LIV event does not start until after the PGA Tour’s season ends at East Lake in Atlanta with the FedEx Cup, which pays $25.7 million to the champion.
Even though LIV Golf players have been suspended, they remain eligible for the FedEx Cup bonus package. Anyone finishing in the top 125 gets $171,800. Those who finish inside the top 150, such as Pat Perez and Paul Casey, would get $121,700.
Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Sergio Garcia are among LIV Golf players who chose to resign their PGA Tour membership. Reed is playing two Asian Tour-International Series tournaments this month.
The lawsuit was filed August 3 by 11 players. The manager for Carlos Ortiz told The Associated Press that Ortiz is no longer part of the lawsuit, though it has not been reflected in court documents yet.
“Carlos does not want to be involved in any legal battles,” his manager, Carlos Rodriguez, said in a text message. “He is thankful for the opportunity he had to play on the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour the last few years.”
Ortiz in two LIV events has made just over $5 million, about 44 per cent of his career PGA Tour earnings from 160 tournaments.
The field for Memphis currently is at 122 players from the 125 who are eligible and in good standing. Three players chose not to compete because of injury or scheduling.
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