The battle between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour has reached the first of what will surely be many courtrooms.
U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman heard arguments from attorneys representing both the PGA Tour and a consortium of eleven LIV-affiliated players on Tuesday afternoon. Three LIV players — Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones — were seeking a temporary restraining order that would permit them to compete in this week's tournament, the first event of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
However, after a two-hour hearing, Judge Freeman ruled that the players had not proven that they would suffer "irreparable harm" if they were not permitted to play. She also indicated that the players were fully aware of the potential consequences of joining LIV when they did earlier this summer, and that they had earned a substantial amount of purse revenue as a result of their decision to play on the LIV tour. Accordingly, the LIV players will not be in the field this week or the rest of the PGA Tour playoffs.
The players' temporary restraining order was only one part of a much larger lawsuit that the LIV players, led by Phil Mickelson, have brought against the Tour on antitrust grounds. That suit charges that the PGA Tour has engaged in anticompetitive behavior and coerced other entities in the golf world — the four majors, various vendors, courses — to shun LIV and its players. The Tour has responded that it is protecting the interests of its members — the players — by keeping walls high against players from competing tours seeking to, in the Tour's oft-repeated words, "have their cake and eat it too."
While Tuesday's hearing focused primarily on the narrow issue of the three players' eligibility to play in the Tour's playoffs — an event for which they'd already qualified prior to leaving for LIV — both the LIV players' attorneys and the Tour's attorneys previewed the arguments that will be at play in the coming months.
Judge Freeman seemed to take issue with the breadth of PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan's power to suspend and otherwise control the destiny of players on the Tour. On the other hand, she raised significant doubts about the level of antitrust violation at work here, given how successful LIV has been in attracting and retaining some of the biggest names in the sport. Five of the 10 most popular players on Tour, according to the Tour's own metrics, have now joined forces with LIV.
Some significant revelations also surfaced during the hearing, the most significant of which concerns the way at least some LIV players are paid. According to the players' own attorney, at least some LIV players have their tournament winnings deducted from their upfront payment — which, in effect, works like an advance rather than as an actual, discrete payment. So under that arrangement, a player who hypothetically received $10 million to play for LIV would need to earn $10 million in tournament purses before earning additional money on the LIV tour. That's a significant and substantial difference from the way that PGA Tour players are paid.
The FedEx St. Jude Classic, the first of the three-event FedEx Cup playoffs, starts Thursday. The next LIV Golf event is scheduled for early September in Boston.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
Contact Jay Busbee at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.