The FedEx St. Jude Classic, the first leg of the three-event FedEx Cup playoffs, starts Thursday in Memphis. LIV Golf-affiliated members Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, and Matt Jones, however, will not be chasing the title despite qualifying for the tournament.
Though all three LIV-affiliated golfers had requested a temporary restraining order that would allow them to play in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs, U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman ruled Tuesday that the trio did not prove that they would suffer “irreparable harm” if they were not permitted to play. Even though the PGA Tour is calling for moving on after this minor lawsuit, the district court decision marks just the first judicial outcome in what is shaping up to be a long and brutal court battle.
“With today’s news, our players, fans and partners can now focus on what really matters over the next three weeks,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said in an August 9 memo.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan has sent the following memo to Tour players, informing them "three Saudi Arabia-financed LIV Golf players" had been denied their restraining order and that "players, fans and partners can now focus on what really matters." pic.twitter.com/9sP7dbODUk
— Dylan Dethier (@dylan_dethier) August 9, 2022
Gooch, Swafford, and Jones are part of a group of 11 LIV-affiliated golfers in a larger PGA Tour antitrust lawsuit challenging suspensions levied by the PGA Tour in early June. Headline players like Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau were lured to sign an LIV contract by extraordinary appearance fees and record prize funds. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan responded by barring LIV players from the tour, citing bylaws that bar members from appearing in outside events without his express permission. Upon suspension, several LIV golfers, including Dustin Johnson, resigned their PGA Tour memberships. The group of 11, however, fought back with an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour.
The suit asserts that the PGA Tour has engaged in anticompetitive behavior and coerced American golf groups (parties that hold the four major championships, various vendors, and other courses) to exclude LIV Golf players. The Tour has responded that it is protecting the interests of its members — the players — by keeping guard against an anti-competitive league.
“The PGA Tour, an American institution, can’t compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to buy the game of golf,” Monahan said to media members on June 22. “We welcome good, healthy competition. The LIV Saudi golf league is not that. It’s an irrational threat; one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game.”
Even though Tuesday’s hearing zeroed in on the three players’ eligibility to play in the Tour’s playoffs, legal arguments provided a preview of the conflict that is going to unfold over the next several months.
LIV lawyers seemed to let slip a pretty stunning admission, according to court reports. During the hearing, a lawyer representing LIV players mentioned that money won in LIV tournaments is “recouped against the LIV contracts.” What this suggests is that players who signed onto the tour for say, $20 million, would need to recoup that money before receiving any prize money for winning an LIV tournament. Players competing for no prize money would render events essentially non-competitive.
The same attorney also compared the FedEx Cup to the NFL’s Super Bowl — which it definitely is not, and Judge Freeman was not convinced otherwise.
— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) August 10, 2022
On the other side, Judge Freeman also excoriated Monahan’s extensive reach, power to suspend, and otherwise control Tour player careers.
The three FedEx playoff events will continue through September 5, overlapping with the next LIV Golf event, scheduled for early September in Boston. Keep an eye on The Manual as the drama continues to unfold. One thing is for sure: This controversy is far from over.
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