According to the Wall Street Journal, the dispute between the PGA Tour and the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Series is now before the U.S. Department of Justice, and the PGA Tour said Monday it was confident it would prevail.
“This was no surprise,” the tour said in a statement.
The Journal reports that players’ agents have received requests from the Department of Justice’s antitrust division regarding the PGA Tour’s rules on competitive play and suspensions of tour players in recent months for participating in LIV Golf events. The newspaper cited a person familiar with the inquiries.
The Ministry of Justice had no comment.
The new series is backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and has already attracted nearly two dozen PGA Tour players, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. They all reportedly received signing fees of $150 million or more. For Johnson, that would be more than double his earnings in 15 years on the PGA Tour.
Controversial is the PGA Tour’s policy of giving participants a controversial event release to play overseas when the tour is played this week. Players usually get three such releases per year, just for overseas events. The Tour does not allow releases for tournaments held in North America.
He refused to release the first LIV Golf tournament, held outside London in the first week of June, because he saw it as a series of tournaments that threatened the PGA Tour. LIV events offer $25 million in prize money, and the eight-tournament schedule includes five tournaments in the United States. The two are taking former President Donald Trump’s courses.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan suspended the players who competed in the LIV’s first event and the last outside of Portland, Oregon. LIV’s next event is scheduled for Trump National in New Jersey in two weeks.
Some players, such as Johnson and Sergio Garcia, withdrew from the PGA Tour. Mickelson has none. He is a lifetime member because of his 45 career wins, and Mickelson said he has earned that status.
Greg Norman, a two-time British Open champion who is CEO of LIV Golf, said two months ago when the tour denied in a release that “the PGA Tour appears intent on stripping professional golfers of their right to play golf if it not exclusive to the PGA Tour tournament.” He called the decision “anti-golfer, anti-fan and anti-competitive.”
Tour cited a Federal Trade Commission investigation two decades ago, saying in a statement: “We went through this in 1994 and we are confident of a similar result.”
The four-year investigation led to the FTC’s recommendation that two rules be lifted — participation in non-PGA Tour events without the commissioner’s permission and a veto over players appearing on golf television programs. Under heavy lobbying, the FTC voted 4-0 to drop the investigation, rejecting the recommendations of staff antitrust lawyers.
The report comes ahead of the 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 were criticized for their source of funding, and players like Mickelson and Johnson lost their corporate sponsorship.
Four players who played on the European Tour last week had their bans lifted, allowing them to compete in the Scottish Open.
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