Eleven golfers affiliated with the LIV Golf breakaway series have filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour, challenging its suspensions and other restrictive measures used to punish those who have signed up to play in Saudi-backed LIV events.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, argues that the PGA Tour unfairly controls players with anti-competitive restrictions to protect its longstanding monopoly on professional golf.
The complaint – filed on behalf of Phil Mickelson and others – alleges the tour “adventured to harm” their careers and livelihoods. “The Tour’s illegal strategy was both detrimental to players and succeeded in threatening LIV Golf’s otherwise promising launch,” he said.
Some players, including Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones, have also requested court orders allowing them to play in the FedEx Cup playoffs, the PGA Tour’s season-ending championship events.
“The punishment that would accrue to these players if they were unable to participate in the FedEx Cup Qualifiers is substantial and irreparable, and a temporary restraining order is necessary to avoid the irreparable harm that would ensue if they were unable to participate,” the complaint says.
The LIV Golf circuit is financed by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, which is overseen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and became a lightning rod for human rights activists who accuses Saudi Arabia of using sport to whitewash its reputation.
It also caused a stir among professional golfers for turning the sport itself upside down. The series poached several prominent players from the PGA Tour with mammoth up-front payments and appearance fees. Mickelson, a six-time major tournament winner, reportedly received $200 million.
Tiger Woods, who harshly criticized the LIV format and PGA Tour defectors saying they “turned their backs on what got them into this position,” turned down an offer of about $700 million to join LIV, according to Greg Norman, the former championship golfer who is the CEO of LIV.
Michael Levenson contributed report.