How the Battle over the Future of Men’s Professional Golf Just Got Nastier

The battle for the future of professional men’s golf just became uglier. A lawsuit filed in Federal Court by 11 former PGA Tour veterans now signed with LIV Golf alleges that the PGA Tour is in violation of antitrust laws. This development moves the battlefield for golf’s future from the financial to the legal arena. Now, instead of a bidding war for the services of individual golfers, the next steps will be determined by lawyers in a court of law.

The entire future of men’s professional golf is at stake with this lawsuit and the profound shift the LIV Tour represents to the status quo. The PGA Tour has long dominated the world of men’s golf. However, Saudi Arabian-backed LIV Golf has almost unlimited financial resources at its disposal. Further, it has shown a willingness to pay handsomely for any golfers that want to leave the PGA Tour and join LIV.

The Lawsuit and What It Means

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 11 professional men’s golfers, including Phil Mickelson, who are part of the LIV tour. There are others, including a number of prominent names, who also joined LIV but are not participants in this lawsuit. Some of them had previously resigned their membership in the PGA Tour. Three of the litigants want the court to issue an injunction that would allow them to play in the upcoming FedEx Cup Playoff.

In response to the creation of LIV Golf, the PGA Tour took the action of suspending any golfer who had played in a LIV Golf event. This preemptive move was matched by LIV Golf, as Code Sports Australia reported, “LIV Golf had been readying to bring an antitrust challenge against the PGA Tour, even before it launched, arguing that the PGA Tour has monopoly power in the golf market and is using that power to try to exclude an upstart challenger, by trying to restrict or drive up the price of LIV’s access to players.”

This suggests that LIV Golf was just looking for the right time and the cooperation of some of its golfers to take legal action. Both sides seem intent on fighting it out for the loyalties of both professional golfers and golfing fans. The lawsuit claims that actions by the PGA Tour to monopolize professional men’s golf have unfairly affected the earnings of Tour players. Citing statistics about salary growth in other major sports, the lawsuit asserts that professional golfers have seen very small increases in their earnings year-to-year when compared to other professional sports.

Reactions to the Lawsuit and What’s Next

Some golfers on the PGA Tour are not happy about the lawsuit. Justin Thomas, a Tour pro, had already indicated his disapproval of any legal action back in June. At that time, he said that he felt that if a lawsuit was forthcoming that it would be effectively an action against not only the PGA Tour but every golfer on it. Based on his statement, Thomas seems to feel that this is a personal betrayal by former colleagues who he thought he had good relationships with.

Other notables have expressed their dissatisfaction with players who have left the PGA Tour for the big money of LIV Golf. Tiger Woods, who has reportedly turned down an offer of around a billion dollars to join LIV, has been critical of Phil Mickelson for signing on with the new organization. Rory McIlroy is another vocal critic of LIV Golf. After a recent win at the Canadian Open, McIlroy expressed his pleasure of now having more PGA Tour wins than LIV Commissioner Greg Norman.

The PGA Tour has been quick to react to the lawsuit. It claimed that the 11 plaintiffs — all of whom were suspended indefinitely by the PGA Tour, thus preventing them from competing in any Tour events — are trying to have the best of both worlds. The Tour claims that the suspended golfers want the big money the LIV is handing out, but also want to compete on the Tour in events of their choosing. This point is underlined by the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction that would allow them to compete in the FedEx Cup Playoff, which will be held during a hiatus on the LIV Tour.

It is possible that some sort of deal will be struck between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf and that the lawsuit will be abandoned. However, many speculate that with the bad blood that has already been shown between the parties that seems unlikely. The next step in this saga is likely to be played out in the courtroom, not on the links.

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