Team Hy Flyers Phil Mickelson of the US speaks to the media after the first round of the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational, June 9, 2022.
Paul Childs | Action Images via Reuters
Eleven professional golfers filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour Wednesday after being suspended from playing in the tour over their involvement with the Saudi-backed LIV league.
The complaint, filed with the US District Court for the Northern District of California, ratchets up an ongoing battle between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour.
Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Ian Poulter and Talor Gooch, among others, allege in the filing that the PGA’s restrictive policies are an attempt to choke off the supply of professional golfers to LIV, thus limiting LIV’s ability to compete with the tour.
The golfers are asking that their suspensions be lifted and for unspecified monetary damages. Three of the plaintiffs — Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones — are further requesting a temporary restraining order against the Tour allowing them to participate in the FedEx Cup Playoffs for which they qualified and which starts next week.
“These suspended players – who are now Saudi Golf League employees – have walked away from the TOUR and now want back in,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan wrote Wednesday in a memo to members. “To allow reentry into our events compromises the TOUR and the competition, to the detriment of our organization, our players, our partners and our fans.”
The tour suspended Mickelson in March for recruiting players to LIV Golf, according to the complaint. In June, the tour denied Mickelson’s appeal of the decision — at the time reported as an initial suspension — and barred 16 additional players from participating in league events for playing in the LIV Golf Tournament without getting the proper media clearances.
Mickelson has faced criticism for and acknowledged the human rights offenses surrounding the Saudi kingdom, but has defended LIV Golf as a necessary disruptor of the PGA Tour.
The lawsuit highlights what it describes as restrictive media rights and conflicting event regulations in calling the PGA Tour “an entrenched monopolist with a vice-grip on professional golf” executing a “carefully orchestrated plan to defeat competition.”
The complaint alleges that, beyond suspensions and regulations, the PGA Tour threatened sponsors, vendors and agents to coerce players into leaving LIV Golf, which is funded mainly by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
“The players are right to have brought this action to challenge the PGA’s anti-competitive rules and to vindicate their rights as independent contractors to play where and when they choose,” LIV Golf said in a statement. “Despite the PGA Tour’s effort to stifle competition, we think golfers should be allowed to play golf.”
Last month, the PGA Tour confirmed the Justice Department is also investigating potential antitrust violations tied to LIV Golf.
Meanwhile, the PGA Tour has been lobbying lawmakers and White House officials, pushing for opposition to the Saudi league.
—CNBC’s Dan Mangan and Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report.