Team Hy Flyers Phil Mickelson of the United States speaks to the media after the first round of the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational, June 9, 2022.
Paul Child | Action images via Reuters
Eleven professional golfers filed an antitrust complaint against the PGA Tour on Wednesday after they were suspended from playing on the tour due to their involvement in the Saudi-backed LIV league.
The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, escalates 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 stifle the supply of professional golfers at LIV, thereby limiting LIV’s ability to compete with the circuit.
The golfers are seeking the lifting of their suspensions and unspecified monetary damages. Three of the plaintiffs – Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones – are additionally seeking a temporary restraining order against the Tour allowing them to participate in the FedEx Cup playoffs for which they qualified and which begin next week.
“These suspended players – who are now employees of the Saudi Golf League – have left the TOUR and now want to return,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan wrote in a note to members on Wednesday. “Allowing re-entry 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 for LIV Golf, according to the complaint. In June, the tour dismissed Mickelson’s appeal against the decision – at the time reported as an initial suspension – and banned 16 additional players from league events for playing in the LIV golf tournament without obtain appropriate media clearances.
Mickelson was criticized and acknowledged the human rights abuses surrounding the Saudi kingdom, but defended LIV Golf as a necessary PGA Tour disrupter.
The lawsuit highlights what it describes as restrictive media rights and conflicting event regulations by calling the PGA Tour “an entrenched monopoly with a vice grip on professional golf” executing a “carefully orchestrated plan to defeat competition”.
The complaint alleges that beyond the suspensions and regulations, the PGA Tour threatened sponsors, vendors and agents to coerce players out of LIV Golf, which is funded primarily by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund.
“The players are right to have brought this action to challenge the PGA’s anti-competitive rules and to assert their rights as independent contractors to play wherever and whenever they choose,” LIV Golf said in a statement. “Despite the PGA Tour’s efforts to stifle competition, we believe golfers should be allowed to play golf.”
Last month, the PGA Tour confirmed that the Department of Justice was also investigating potential antitrust violations related to LIV Golf.
Meanwhile, the PGA Tour has lobbied lawmakers and White House officials, pushing opposition to the Saudi league.
—CNBC’s Dan Mangan and Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report.