Dispute over LIV golf: Phil Mickelson and Co. sue PGA Tour

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The power struggle in international golf between the established PGA Tour and the LIV golf series financed by Saudi Arabia is entering the next round.

Phil Mickelson putting on – during the LIV golf tournament in Bedminster

“The purpose of this lawsuit is to stop the PGA Tour's anti-competitive rules and practices that prevent these independent golfers from playing when and where they want,” read the lawsuit, brought by 11 professional golfers, led by the six-time major Tournament winner Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, winner of the U.S. Open 2020.

The 11 pro golfers were among 17 players suspended from the PGA Tour until further notice in June. They started at the first tournament of the Saudi-sponsored LIV Golf invitational series in London. One of those suspended was German Martin Kaymer, who is not among the plaintiffs in the US District Court for Northern California.

Jay Monahan, chief executive of the PGA Tour, reacted calmly to the lawsuit alleging his organization's violations of US antitrust laws. “Essentially, these suspended players – who are now employees of the Saudi Golf League – left the tour and are looking to get back on,” Monahan wrote to PGA Tour members.

Woods has hit more than 700 million Dollars out

The Tour Manual generally prohibits professionals from attending events when a PGA sanctioned or sponsored event is taking place at the same time. In the case of the LIV inaugural tournament in London in June, that was the Canadian Open in Toronto. Since then, two more tournaments of the new series have been played – in the USA, practically on the doorstep of the PGA in Portland and most recently on the course in Bedminster, which belongs to Donald Trump. The ex-President of the USA was among the spectators. In the course of the second and third LIV invitational tournaments, the PGA suspended further golf professionals.

Ex-President Doand Trump at the LIV golf tournament at his own golf course in Bedminster

The makers of the LIV series lure the stars of the scene with exorbitant bounties. CEO Greg Norman indirectly confirmed that superstar Tiger Woods had turned down an offer of 700 to 800 million dollars. “It was before my time as CEO, but it was on this scale,” said the former Australian world-class golfer in an interview with US broadcaster Fox News, which is close to Trump.

$4 million prize money

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Others have not been as loyal to the PGA as Woods. For example, two-time major tournament winner Dustin Johnson – he won the U.S. Open 2016 and the Masters 2020 – returned his PGA Tour license and is now competing at the competitive event.

So far, such behavior has not affected participation in the Majors, the four most important golf tournaments of the year. In addition to the U.S. Open and the Masters, the PGA Championship and the British Open. These tournaments are organized by independent organizers who determine their own qualification criteria. Both the makers of the US Open in June in the Boston suburb of Brookline and the organizers of the Open Championship in July in St. Andrews, Scotland, decided not to exclude LIV starters.

It was worth it: Henrik Stenson pocketed more than four million dollars in Bedminster

It pays off for the pros to compete in the new series. Even the last-placed of the 48 tournament starters still collects 120,000 US dollars. The winner takes home four million US dollars. In the case of former British Open champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who won the tournament in Bedminster, an additional $375,000 was added. His team of four finished second in the team classification. The winning quartet around Dustin Johnson shared a prize of three million dollars.

Sportswashing accusation

The organizer of the series is not short of money. The main shareholder of LIV Golf Investments is the Saudi state fund PIF (Public Investment Fund), which manages total assets of around 500 billion dollars. Last year, the fund took over 80 percent of the shares in the traditional English football club Newcastle United. The PIF chairman is the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who, in his own words, wants to use his “Vision 2030” development plan to modernize the country and make it less dependent on oil revenues. Investments in sport also play a not insignificant role. Human rights organizations accuse Saudi Arabia of “sportswashing”. It is said that those in power in Riyadh wanted to distract attention from the human rights violations in the country with glossy sporting events. 

Like Monopoly

LIV Golf boss Norman considers the debate hypocritical. Most of the more than 20 sponsors of the PGA Tour also did business with Saudi Arabia, the Australian said in a “Fox News” interview. In addition, the Saudi company Aramco, the largest oil company in the world, is the main sponsor of the Ladies European Tour. According to Norman, this shows that the dispute over the LIV series is all about power and money: “It's a Monopoly game. They just want to eliminate us wherever they can.”