Federal judge rejects LIV golfers’ bid for PGA Tour postseason
A federal judge in California has ruled that three golfers who have joined Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf cannot compete in the PGA Tour postseason.
Judge Beth Labson Freeman made her decision Tuesday afternoon in San Jose after attorneys for each side spoke for about an hour. Freeman said she doesn’t see the golfers as irreparably harmed because of the big money they’re guaranteed by joining LIV, a key issue in the case.
“In this case, there’s just no irreparable damage,” said PGA Tour attorney Elliot Peters.
The three suspended golfers were, which Freeman denied. Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford all claimed they should be able to play where they wanted, and each said, “I’m a free agent and an independent contractor,” in letters to the PGA last month are among 10 players who filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour last week – including Phil Mickelson.
Robert Walters, an antitrust attorney representing the golfers, noted that this is their chance at a major playoff stage, “effectively the Super Bowl of golf” because of its “significant revenue potential.” Freeman responded that the LIV Tour had great winning potential as well, and asked if players could possibly have waited until the end of the PGA Tour season to embark on the new tour.
Walters argued that there were only 48 courses and, according to LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, they had been filled, to which Freeman said she agreed with that stance, but that golfers would gain far more financially by joining LIV than that Money they might have earned PGA Tour.
“This is an extremely attractive financial opportunity, but it’s much more than that,” Walters said, saying the damage done is that “players lose intangible benefits” like qualifying for the major tournaments and other marquee invitations.
“That’s the holy grail because everyone wants to compete in major championships and excel, but it’s not just the majors,” Walters said. He noted that the PGA Tour concluded that these golfers would add a “stain” or “stink” to the Tour’s image by playing.
The first of three FedEx Cup Playoff events begins Thursday as players compete for the $18 million top prize – hence the urgency for Freeman to reign. According to Peters, that case could go to court next year, with the possibility of a preliminary hearing in late September or early October.
Peters said lifting golfers’ suspensions and allowing them to play would “change the status quo for the PGA Tour and give them a fabulous platform” to promote the LIV Tour while attending a PGA event.
“I think that’s a huge problem,” he said. “…The Commissioner needs the ability to protect the Tour. This is a very dire situation for the Tour.”
Gooch (No. 20), Jones (No. 65) and Swafford (No. 67) are among nine players who joined LIV Golf and finished the regular season in the top 125 of the FedEx Cup standings. The other six who have joined LIV Golf are not asking to play in the tour’s postseason.