PGA Tour fight with LIV Golf reaches Justice Department

The conflict that turned men’s professional golf on its head extended into a new setting as the Justice Department investigated the PGA Tour for anti-competitive behavior in its dealings with the breakaway LIV Golf series, a tour spokeswoman confirmed on Monday.

The PGA Tour suspended players who violated tour rules and competed in two recent LIV golf events without permission from the PGA Tour. Greg Norman, chief executive of LIV Golf, whose majority shareholder is Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, criticized the tour’s stance as an “illegal monopoly”.

Jay Monahan, a PGA Tour commissioner, has repeatedly argued that his organization’s policies will stand legal scrutiny, including if a lawsuit is filed by a suspended PGA Tour member, which is expected. The PGA Tour pointed to a 1994 federal investigation that looked at comparable disciplinary action against golfers playing in non-PGA Tour tournaments without the permission of the commissioner. The tour did not receive federal sanctions at the time.

“We went through this in 1994 and are confident of the same outcome,” Laura Neal, executive vice president of the PGA Tour, wrote in an email on Monday. Of the DOJ investigation, Neil said, “It was not a surprise.”

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, citing a longstanding policy of not confirming or denying reports of ongoing investigations.

The PGA Tour investigation was first reported in The Wall Street Journal. LIV Golf representatives did not respond to an email asking for comment.

The LIV Golf Club, which hosted two of the eight tournaments scheduled for this year, poached several top players from the PGA Tour with gigantic upfront fees and entry fees. Phil Mickelson, a six-time major tournament winner, reportedly received $200 million.

The total prize pool of the LIV tournaments reaches $20 million, with the last-place finisher guaranteed $120,000. With a separate pool of money for team events, some golfers have earned almost $1 million from a single event after finishing in the bottom third of the course. The rebellious circuit has also attracted PGA Tour players by offering a limited schedule, although LIV Golf plans to expand its schedule to 14 tournaments next year, roughly equal to the number the typical PGA Tour golfer currently plays in a tour season.

However, such recognizable names as Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia and Luis Osthuizen left the PGA Tour for the LIV Golf series. World ratings of almost all players in this group have been declining in recent seasons. And ranking points, which are key to players invited to the four major golf championships, are not available at LIV Golf events.

Mickelson dropped from 38th place in the men’s world rankings to 92nd. Garcia moved up from 45th to 68th. DeChambeau started the year in ninth place and is now in 33rd place, while Johnson, who was eighth this year, is now 18th.

Mickelson, 52, came under fire and lost several longtime corporate sponsors this year when he admitted he supported the LIV Golf series because he saw it as “the only opportunity in my life” to use the PGA Tour to boost player payouts. . However, in the LIV competition, he seemed uncomfortable on the golf course.

He shot over 75 only once in two tournaments, finishing 10 over par in each tournament.

In a UK court last week, three LIV-linked golfers challenged their suspension from a Scottish golf tournament and won a temporary stay allowing them to play in the tournament. Commissioner of the DP World Tour, a former European tour that LIV golf players disqualified – and fined each approximately $120,000 – and vowed to continue to pressure the courts to maintain discipline.

Monahan was still confident in the position of the tour and in the duel with LIV Golf.

Late last month, in response to LIV Golf’s bountiful tournament payouts, Monahan announced a significant increase in prize money for upcoming PGA Tour tournaments and added that the tour “will eventually come out of the current challenge stronger thanks to our loyalty and the support of our players and fans.” “