Justice Department antitrust division looking into PGA Tour-LIV Golf dispute: report

At issue is the PGA Tour’s policy that members receive a conflicting event release to play tournaments overseas when a tour event is being held that week.

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Greg Norman, CEO of LIV Golf, tosses a beer to spectators at the Portland Invitational LIV Golf tournament on July 2, 2022.

Greg Norman, CEO of LIV Golf, tosses a beer to spectators at the Portland Invitational LIV Golf tournament on July 2, 2022.

Steve Dipaola/AP

The dispute between the PGA Tour and the Saudi-funded LIV Golf series now has the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice, according to the Wall Street Journal, and the PGA Tour said Monday it was confident it would prevail.

“This was not unexpected,” the tour said in a statement.

The Journal said players’ agents have received inquiries from the Justice Department’s antitrust division that involve PGA Tour regulations on competing events and the tour suspending players in recent months for playing in LIV Golf events. The Journal cited a person familiar with the inquiries.

The Justice Department had no comment.

The new series is backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and already has attracted nearly two dozen PGA Tour members, a list that includes Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. All reportedly have received signing fees of $150 million or more. For Johnson, that would be twice as much as his career earnings in his 15 years on the PGA Tour.

At issue is the PGA Tour’s policy that members receive a conflicting event release to play tournaments overseas when a tour event is being held that week. Players typically get three such releases a year, only for overseas events. The tour does not allow releases for tournaments held in North America.

It denied releases for the first LIV Golf event, which was held outside London the first week in June, because it viewed it as a series of tournaments that threatened the PGA Tour. The LIV events offer $25 million in prize money and its eight-tournament schedule features five events in the United States. Two are at courses owned by former President Donald Trump.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan suspended players who competed in the first LIV event and the most recent one outside Portland, Oregon. The next LIV event is scheduled for Trump National in New Jersey in two weeks.

Some players, such as Johnson and Sergio Garcia, have resigned their PGA Tour membership. Mickelson has not. He is a lifetime member because of his 45 career victories, and Mickelson has said he earned that status.

Greg Norman, the two-time British Open champion who is CEO of LIV Golf, said two months ago when the tour denied releases that “the PGA Tour seems intent on denying professional golfers their right to play golf, unless it’s exclusively in a PGA Tour tournament.” He called the decision “anti-golfer, anti-fan and anti-competitive.”

The tour referenced a Federal Trade Commission investigation from two decades ago in saying in its statement, “We went through this in 1994 and we are confident in a similar outcome.”

That four-year investigation resulted in an FTC recommendation that two rules be nullified — competing in non-PGA Tour events without the commissioner’s permission and allowing veto power over players appearing on televised golf programs. Under heavy lobbying, the FTC voted 4-0 to end the investigation by rejecting the recommendation from the staff’s antitrust lawyers.

The report comes at the start of the British Open at St. Andrews, another example of how much the rival league has disrupted golf this year. Players who signed on with Norman’s group have been criticized for the source of the funding, and players like Mickelson and Johnson have lost corporate sponsorships.

Four players on the European tour last week were given a temporary stay from being suspended, allowing them to compete in the Scottish Open.

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