The dispute between PGA Tour and the Saudi-funded LIV golf series now has the attention of the US Department of Justice, according to The Wall Street Journal, and the PGA Tour said Monday it was confident it would prevail.
“This was not unexpected,” the tour said in a statement.
The Journal said the players’ agents have received inquiries from the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division regarding PGA Tour regulations for competing events and the Tour suspended players in recent months for attending LIV golf events. The Journal quoted a person familiar with the inquiries.
The Justice Department had no comment.
The new series is backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and has already attracted nearly two dozen PGA Tour members including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. All have reportedly received contract fees of $150 million or more. For Johnson, that would be twice his career earnings from his 15 years on the PGA Tour.
At issue is the PGA Tour’s policy that members receive conflicting event clearance to play tournaments overseas if there is a tour event that week. Players typically get three such releases per year, for overseas events only. The tour does not allow releases for tournaments held in North America.
It Publications denied for the first LIV Golf event held outside of London in the first week of June because it was seen as a series of tournaments threatening the PGA Tour. LIV events offer $25 million in prize money and the eight-tournament schedule includes five events across the United States. Two are on courses of former President Donald Trump.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan suspended players who competed in the first LIV event and the most recent outside of Portland, Oregon. The next LIV event is scheduled for Trump National in New Jersey in two weeks.
Some players, like Johnson and Sergio Garcia, have resigned from the PGA Tour. Mickelson doesn’t. He is a lifetime member due to his 45 career wins, and Mickelson has said he deserves that status.
Greg Norman, two-time British Open champion and CEO of LIV Golf, said two months ago when the tour denied disclosures that “the PGA Tour appears intent on denying professional golfers the right to play golf, it unless it’s strictly a PGA Tour tournament.” He called the decision “anti-golfer, anti-fan, and anti-competitive.”
The tour referenced a Federal Trade Commission investigation from two decades ago when it said in its statement, “We went through this in 1994 and we’re confident of a similar outcome.”
That four-year investigation resulted in an FTC recommendation to suspend two rules — attendance at non-PGA Tour events without the commissioner’s permission and granting veto power over players appearing on televised golf programs. Under heavy lobbying, the FTC voted 4-0 to end the investigation, rejecting the recommendation of the staff’s antitrust attorneys.
The report comes at the beginning of British Open at St Andrews, another example of how much the rival league has disrupted golf this year. Players who signed with Norman’s group have faced criticism over the source of funding, and players such as Mickelson and Johnson have lost corporate sponsors.
Four players on last week’s European tour have been temporarily ruled out of suspension to allow them to play the Scottish Open.
Associated Press reporting.
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