After 11 LIV Golf players sued the PGA Tour last week, with three of them seeking entry into the Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs that start this week, the Tour on Monday sent to the U.S. District Court of Northern California a 32-page response, plus a separate seven-page example of what it calls mischaracterizations and mistruths presented by the LIV players.
The court is scheduled on Tuesday to hear a complaint filed on behalf of suspended PGA Tour players Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones that seeks a mandatory injunction against the PGA Tour’s suspension of these players from the playoffs. Those three seek to be allowed to compete in the FedEx Cup Playoffs that begin with this week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis, Tennessee. Each of those players would have qualified for the playoffs based on points had they not been suspended.
Of particular interest in the Tour’s response is that it said 98 percent of its net profits are given to players, tournaments and charities. The Tour said allowing suspended LIV golfers to compete for FedEx Cup Playoff purses would create financial harm to players who have remained committed to the Tour.
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The Tour’s response Monday and Tuesday’s court hearing involve only the topic of allowing the three players into the FedEx Cup Playoffs and do not address the larger issue of Tour suspensions of LIV Golf players as a whole — any resolution in that case likely will take months or even years. Tuesday’s hearing likely will center on whether the three players will be irreparably harmed if they are not allowed to compete in the playoffs, meaning they should be allowed to play because any lost income from the playoffs would be irretrievably lost.
Keker, Van Nest & Peters – lead counsel representing the PGA Tour in the dispute – filed the Tour’s response to the court, with highlights as selected on the Tour’s behalf listed below. Parts of the Tour’s filing were redacted as sent to media.
- The Tour is a membership organization that works on behalf of and for the benefit of its member players, unlike other sports governing bodies (like the NFL or NBA).
- Members sign annual contracts committing exclusive media rights to the Tour so that that it may negotiate deals on their collective behalf (broadcast, sponsorship, merchandise, etc.). By enabling professional golfers to pool their media rights, the Tour has driven media and sponsorship money into the sport for the benefit of all Tour members.
- Sponsorship, broadcast, and other revenues are distributed to members in the form of tournament purses, bonuses, retirement plan contributions, and other benefits. In 2021, $916 million—approximately 98% of the Tour’s net revenue—was allocated to players, tournaments, and charities. Of that, $770 million was allocated to players, including $443 million to player prize money and benefits, $110 million to player bonus programs, $17 million to Player Retirement Plan contributions, and $200 million to Player Retirement Plan earnings. As part of their annual contract, members agree not to play in, and thereby contribute their media rights to, non-Tour golf events held in North America that conflict with PGA Tour events.
- Despite knowing full well that they would breach Tour Regulations and be suspended for doing so, Plaintiffs have joined competing golf league LIV Golf, which has paid them tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in guaranteed money supplied by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund to procure their breaches.
- The Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) Plaintiffs have waited nearly two months to seek relief from the Court, fabricating an “emergency” they now maintain requires immediate action.
- PGA Tour members and their agents were communicated with for more than year prior to the launch of the LIV Golf, and were made aware that participation would constitute a breach of contract and of the Tour’s rules.
- TRO Plaintiffs have known since June 9 — and indeed, earlier — that they would violate the Tour’s Regulations and forfeit their ability to play in the FedExCup Playoffs in exchange for accepting massive payments from LIV Golf.
- In a telling sign, several other LIV players, including four other Plaintiffs in this case, recognize there is no emergency or irreparable harm; they too have “qualified” to play in the FedExCup but have not asked the Court for the extraordinary relief sought through this motion.
- Unable to establish their claims based on any fair interpretation of admissible evidence, TRO Plaintiffs have resorted to mischaracterizing the record. The mischaracterizations, half-truths, and falsehoods are so numerous in Plaintiffs’ brief that the Tour couldn’t respond to all of them and instead had to create a separate chart identifying an exemplary set.
- At the end of the day, the question is: Why would a judge be convinced that these players were harmed after they were made aware of the rules and consequences, knowingly broke those rules, and now seek judicial permission to continue to break those rules? And with players making eye-popping guaranteed amounts of money, where is the demonstrated harm?
- “The players’ participation in the LIV league is in violation of the PGA Tour’s Handbook and Tournament Regulations,” said Elliot Petersof Keker, Van Nest & Peters. “For enormous sums of cash supplied by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, Plaintiffs willfully breached their agreements with the PGA Tour. The players’ purported harm is entirely self-induced. We will litigate this case vigorously to preserve the reputation of the PGA Tour and protect the benefits it offers to players.”