Federal judge denies LIV golfers bid on PGA Tour after season

A federal judge in California has ruled that three golfers who joined Saudi-backed LIV Golf will not be able to compete in PGA Tour after the season.

Judge Beth Labson Freeman made her decision Tuesday afternoon in San Jose after attorneys for the parties spoke for about an hour. Freeman said she did not believe the golfers faced irreparable harm because of the big money they were guaranteed by joining LIV, a key issue in the case.

“There is simply no irreparable harm in this case,” said PGA Tour attorney Elliot Peters.

The three suspended golfers sought a temporary restraining order, which Freeman rejected. Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford argued they should be able to play wherever they want, each saying in letters to the PGA last month: “I am a free agent and independent contractor.” They are among 10 players who filed antitrust lawsuits against the PGA Tour last week — including Phil Mickelson.

Robert Walters, an antitrust attorney representing the golfers, noted that it is their opportunity on a major playoff stage, “effectively the Super Bowl of golf” because of its “significant revenue potential.” Freeman responded that the LIV Tour revenue potential was also great and asked if the players might have been able to wait until the end of the PGA Tour season to travel to the new tour.

Walters claimed there were only 48 spots and they would have filled up according to LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, with whom Freeman said she agreed with that stance, but that golfers could get far more financially by joining LIV than the money they could have made on the PGA Tour.

“This is an extraordinarily attractive financial opportunity, but it’s much more than that,” Walters said, saying the damage is that “players lose intangible benefits” such as qualifying for the majors as well as other invitations.

“This is the holy grail because everyone wants to compete in and win major championships, but it’s not just the majors,” Walters said. He noted that the PGA Tour suggested that these golfers would put a “stain” or “stink” on the tour’s image by playing.

The first of three FedEx Cup playoff events begins Thursday as players compete for the $18 million top prize — and so the urgency for Freeman to rule. This case could go to trial next year, with the possibility of an injunction hearing in late September or early October, according to Peters.

Peters said lifting the suspensions of the golfers and allowing them to play would “change the status quo” for the PGA Tour and “give them a fantastic platform” to promote the LIV Tour while competing in a PGA event.

“I think it’s a big problem,” he said. “… The Commissioner needs the ability to protect the Tour. This is a very serious situation for the Tour.”

Gooch (No. 20), Jones (No. 65) and Swafford (No. 67) are among nine players who have joined LIV Golf and finished the regular season in the top 125 of the FedEx Cup standings. The other six who joined LIV Golf are not asking to play in the tour’s postseason.

Associated Press reporting.

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