The PGA Tour pointedly responded to a lawsuit from LIV Golf players after their PGA suspension.
The PGA Tour fired back at a lawsuit filed by professional golfers who recently joined the rival LIV Golf tour, dubbing them “Saudi Golf League employees,” according to Yahoo Finance, which received a copy of the PGA’s missive.
LIV Golf is a well-financed startup tour trying to compete with the PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association of America) Tour, which sanctions the bulk of pro golf in the country for more than 100 years. LIV is backed by the Public Invest Fund, led by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Legendary Australian golf champion Greg Norman is CEO of LIV Golf.
The new tour has pulled many golfers away from the PGA Tour with promises of hefty checks. For example, LIV will pay Phil Mickelson $200 million to play in the startup tour, which is nearly double what legend Tiger Woods has earned in prize money during his entire career. LIV gave the world’s number-one golfer Dustin Johnson a four-year, $125 million contract, which doubled his lifetime earnings of $74 million.
Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, and nine other LIV golfers filed an antitrust complaint against the PGA Tour on Wednesday. The lawsuit comes after the players were suspended from the PGA Tour over their involvement with the fledgling LIV Tour. Hours after the lawsuit announcement, the PGA Tour responded in a memo from Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan.
“It’s an attempt to use the Tour platform to promote themselves and to free ride on your benefits and efforts,” Commissioner Monahan wrote to members. “To allow re-entry into our events compromises the Tour and the competition, to the detriment of our organizations, our players, our partners, and our fans. The lawsuit they have filed somehow expects us to believe the opposite, which is why we intend to make our case clearly and vigorously.”
Each year, PGA members are required to sign a membership renewal. In the agreement players give up media rights and their ability to play in other golf tournaments—at the discretion of the PGA Tour. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs take issue with the legality of the practice. They think the PGA Tour is purposely trying to cause “harm” toward them for leaving for a competitor.
“The players are right to have brought this action to challenge the PGA Tour’s anti-competitive rules and to vindicate their rights as independent contractors to play where and when they choose. Despite the PGA Tour’s effort to stifle competition, we think golfers should be allowed to play golf,” LIV Golf replied to Yahoo Sports.