The PGA Tour filed its response Monday to the lawsuit filed last week by 11 LIV Golf players, specifically in regard to the temporary restraining order sought by three players who want to compete in the FedEx Cup playoffs starting this week in Memphis.
The response is in advance of a hearing scheduled for Tuesday in which a ruling is expected to be made that would either allow Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones to compete in the FedEx St. Jude Championship or deny them the opportunity.
The PGA Tour maintains that all of the players knew they were in violation of Tour policy and rules when they elected to sign contracts with LIV Golf and compete in events without media and tournament releases.
Gooch, Swafford and Jones—despite not playing PGA Tour events for the past two months—have earned enough points to qualify for the first of three FedEx playoff events by being among the top 125.
“The players’ participation in the LIV league is in violation of the PGA Tour’s Handbook and Tournament Regulations,’’ said Elliott Peters of Keker, Van Nest & Peters, the law firm representing the Tour. “For enormous sums of cash supplied by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, Plaintiffs willfully breached their agreements with the PGA Tour. The players’ purported harm is entirely self-induced. We will litigate this case vigorously to preserve the reputation of the PGA Tour and protect the benefits it offers to players.’’
LIV Golf, with the backing of the Public Investment Fund—Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund—has invested more than $1 billion in launching and signing players to contracts to compete in what is now called the LIV Golf Invitational Series. It has so far played three events with $25 million purses and is scheduled for five more this year.
Next year, LIV will transition to a League format with 14 tournaments, including 48 players on 12 four-man teams that will remain together all season.
Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau are among 11 players who have joined LIV Golf in suing the PGA Tour for antitrust violations, including the three who are seeking the injunction.
The Tour announced in late May that it would not be granting such releases for the eight events this year; it has never granted such releases for domestic tournaments played opposite PGA Tour events.
Among the arguments the Tour made in its filing, it said TRO (temporary restraining order) plaintiffs “have waited nearly two full months to seek relief from the Court, fabricating an ’emergency’ they now maintain requires immediate action.”
The players and their agents, claim the Tour, were made aware that signing with LIV and playing in its events was a breach of its rules and that by doing so they would forfeit their right to compete in PGA Tour events, including the FedEx Cup playoffs.
“At the end of the day, the question is: why would a judge be convinced that these players were harmed after they were made aware of the rules and consequences, knowingly broke the rules, and now seek judicial permission to continue to break those rules?” the filing said. “And with the players making eye-popping guaranteed amounts of money, where is the demonstrated harm?’’
In addition to Mickelson and DeChambeau and the three players seeking the injunction to play this week, the others who joined the lawsuit and are seeking to have their indefinite suspensions lifted are Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Ian Poulter, Pat Perez, Jason Kokrak and Peter Uihlein.
Poulter sought and was granted an injunction to compete in last month’s Genesis Scottish Open on the DP World Tour.
LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman has maintained that as independent contractors, golfers should have the right to play when they want, outside of the PGA Tour and vowed to back them in court proceedings.
“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,’’ Norman said in a statement Monday. “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. The PGA Tour is trying to cast this as ‘us’ against ‘them.’ The players know better.”
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