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Judge: LIV golfers didn’t show harm by PGA Tour
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The federal judge who denied temporary restraining orders to three LIV Golf players who wanted to come back to the PGA Tour to compete in the FedEx Cup playoffs said the plaintiffs failed to “even show that they have been harmed — let alone irreparably.”
United States District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman, of the Northern District of California, made that assessment in her written ruling that was released on Thursday. Freeman ruled on Tuesday that the PGA Tour could ban Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford from competing in the FedEx Cup playoffs while they were suspended for appearing in LIV Golf tournaments without conflicting-event releases.
“Based on this evidence, [temporary restraining order] Plaintiffs have not even shown that they have been harmed — let alone irreparably,” Freeman wrote in her ruling. “It is clear that the LIV Golf contracts negotiated by the TRO Plaintiffs and consummated between the parties were based on the players’ calculation of what they would be leaving behind and the amount of money they would need to compensate for those losses.
“TRO Plaintiffs have signed contracts that richly reward them for their talent and compensate for lost opportunity through TOUR play. In fact, the evidence shows almost without a doubt that they will be earning significantly more money with LIV Golf than they could reasonably have expected to make through TOUR play over the same time period.”
Lawyers for the three players argued that prohibiting them from competing in the FedEx Cup playoffs would negate them of opportunities to earn Official World Golf Ranking points, which are used to determine exemptions and fields for the four major championships. During Tuesday’s hearing, the players’ attorney referred to the playoffs as the Super Bowl of professional golf. He said not appearing in the playoffs would cost his clients income-earning opportunities and that they would suffer losses to “goodwill, reputation and brand.”
Freeman disagreed with that argument as well.
“Plaintiffs’ contention that they will irreparably lose future sponsorship opportunities and career status is undermined by TRO Plaintiffs’ evidence that LIV Golf offers a refreshing new ‘extremely fan-friendly’ business model that will lead to ‘an improved broadcast output and entertainment experience’ compared to the staid old golf world built by PGA TOUR,” Freeman wrote. “If LIV Golf is elite golf’s future, what do TRO Plaintiffs care about the dust-collecting trophies of a bygone era?”
Gooch, Jones, Swafford and eight other LIV players, including Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour in federal court last week. The trio’s request for relief to participate in the FedEx Cup playoffs was part of that lawsuit. Freeman has scheduled a jury trial for September 2023 to consider the players’ antitrust claims.
PGA Tour lawyers argued during the hearing that LIV Golf’s early success — it has lured past majors champions Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and others with signing bonuses reportedly worth as much as $200 million to join the Saudi Arabia-financed circuit and will expand to a league format with 14 events in 2023 — proves it is not preventing LIV Golf from entering the market.
“The Court acknowledges that TRO Plaintiffs raise significant antitrust issues that are facially appealing,” Freeman concluded in her motion. “But PGA TOUR has responded with preliminary evidence and argument potentially exposing fundamental flaws in Plaintiffs’ claims. These complex issues are best resolved on a more developed record.”
PGA Tour member Billy Horschel said he was surprised that some LIV players thought they could come back to the Tour.
“I said to some of the guys personally, I think they’ve been brainwashed by the way they feel so adamant that they’re going to be back out on the PGA Tour,” Horschel told the Golf Channel. “I’ve had some of them tell me … ‘I’ll see you Tour again,’ and I say, ‘No, you won’t.’ A couple of them are pretty brainwashed in the way they’re thinking and what they’ve been told.”