PGA Tour Accuses LIV Golf of Interfering With Its Contracts
The PGA Tour filed a countersuit against LIV Golf on Wednesday, the latest turn in a winding legal battle between the tour and the Saudi-backed circuit that has drawn a number of top players.
In its counterclaim, the PGA Tour, which LIV is suing for antitrust violations, said the upstart series had “tortiously interfered” with the tour’s contracts with golfers who had left to join LIV. It added that LIV had “falsely informed” its players that they could break their contracts with the tour “for the benefit of LIV and to the detriment of all tour members.”
“Indeed, a key component of LIV’s strategy has been to intentionally induce tour members to breach their tour agreements and play in LIV events while seeking to maintain their tour memberships and play in marquee tour events like The Players Championship and the FedEx Cup Playoffs, so LIV can free ride off the tour and its platform,” the PGA Tour said in its counterclaim.
The PGA Tour, which declined to comment on Thursday, asked for a trial by jury, which was set for January 2024. The tour also seeks damages for any lost profits, “damages to reputational and brand harm” and other legal costs.
In a statement on Thursday, LIV said the PGA Tour “has made these counterclaims in a transparent effort to divert attention from their anti-competitive conduct, which LIV and the players detail in their 104-page complaint.”
A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series
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A new series. The debut of the new Saudi-financed LIV Golf series has resurfaced longstanding questions about athletes’ moral obligations and their desire to compete and earn money. Here’s what to know:
What is LIV Golf? The series is an upstart professional golf circuit bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Its organizers hope to position it as a player-power-focused alternative to the PGA Tour, which has been the highest level of pro golf for nearly a century.
Why is the new series controversial? The event has created sparks within golf for upending the traditions and strictures of how the game is played. It has also become a lightning rod for human rights campaigners who accuse Saudi Arabia of using sports to launder its reputation.
What is attracting the players? The LIV Golf events are the richest tournaments in golf history. The first tournament’s total purse was $25 million, and the winner’s share was $4 million. The last-place finisher at each event was guaranteed $120,000. That is on top of the appearance fees and nine-figure signing-on payouts some players have accepted.
“We remain confident that the courts and the justice system will right these wrongs,” the statement said.
The countersuit is the latest turn in an antagonistic battle between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, which has lured away a number of players with staggering sums of money. The suit comes weeks after PGA Tour stars, including Tiger Woods, met privately to discuss how to contend with LIV and after a federal judge ruled that the PGA Tour could bar LIV golfers from the FedEx Cup playoffs, which concluded at the end of August.
In its countersuit, the PGA Tour claimed that while LIV Golf said the tour’s rules violated antitrust laws, LIV had signed players to contracts with obligations “that are far more restrictive” than what the tour’s rules dictated, “including a prohibition on participation in conflicting events that, unlike the tour’s conflicting event rules, does not allow for any request for release.
“Yet LIV told players that the tour’s behavior was anticompetitive and in violation of the regulations in a calculated effort to convince LIV players it would benefit them to breach their agreements with the tour,” the counterclaim said.
LIV Golf’s suit was initially brought by 11 former PGA Tour players, and LIV joined in late August. Four of the players had already removed themselves from the suit, and on Tuesday, four more players — Phil Mickelson, Talor Gooch, Ian Poulter and Hudson Swafford — withdrew. The three individual golfers who remain in the suit are Bryson DeChambeau, Matt Jones and Peter Uihlein.
“I am pleased that the players on Tour are finally being heard, respected, and valued and are benefiting from the changes recently implemented,” Mickelson said in a statement. “With LIV’s involvement in these issues, the players’ rights will be protected, and I no longer feel it is necessary for me to be part of the proceedings.”
At the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in St. Andrews, Scotland, on Wednesday, Rory McIlroy told reporters that the two sides must meet in the middle.
“The game of golf is ripping itself apart right now, and that’s no good for anyone,” McIlroy said. “It’s no good for the guys on this side or the sort of traditional system, and it’s no good for the guys on the other side, either. It’s no good for anyone.”