Temporary Respite

The PGA Tour wins the first legal skirmish against LIV Golf in the battle for golf’s soul

By Alan Shipnuck
August 9, 2022

SAN JOSE, Calif.—When it was over, when the last slide had been presented and the verbal fireworks had ended and the judge had handed down her verdict, the lawyers for the PGA Tour slowly made their way out of the courtroom on the fifth floor of the Robert F. Peckham Federal Building. They were a dozen strong, many rolling wheeled briefcases, while one junior associate strained to control a dolly loaded with three large crates of documents. Win, lose or the draw, this army of sharply dressed lawyers sent a clear message: The Tour knows it is facing an existential threat to its survival, and every resource will be mobilized.

On this day, the Tour prevailed in court, as U.S. District Court Judge Beth Freeman denied a temporary restraining order being sought by three LIV golfers (Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford) who were trying to muscle their way into this week’s FedEx Cup event in Memphis.

The ruling on Tuesday was not wholly unexpected, as plaintiffs always face a high bar to prove “irreparable harm,” the crucial legal standard in such cases. And this ruling does not affect the larger antitrust case that LIV golfers have filed against the Tour, which threatens to reshape the business of professional golf.

Still, this was a meaningful victory for the embattled Tour, which has been rocked by the defection of numerous big-name players to an upstart competitor with seemingly unlimited reserves of cash. (On Tuesday, the first reports leaked what has long been rumored: World No. 2 Cameron Smith is, supposedly, bolting to LIV.) The satisfaction could be seen in the weary smiles of the Tour’s legal team and the gloating press release that hit reporters’ inboxes within minutes of the verdict. “With today’s news,” wrote PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, “our players, fans and partners can now focus on what really matters over the next three weeks: the best players in the world competing in the FedExCup Playoffs.”

Indeed, the Tour argued it would suffer “irreparable harm” if the temporary restraining order allowed for “forced promotion” of LIV Golf at one of the PGA Tour’s flagship events. Lawyer Elliot Peters outlined the doomsday scenario in which Gooch, Jones or Swafford could be wearing LIV-branded apparel between the ropes. Freeman’s ruling eliminated such awkwardness, not to mention the chance the three plaintiffs would have died from frostbite in Memphis in August because of the frigid reception from their peers, who were in effect the defendants.

Tuesday’s ruling was narrow legally but deeply satisfying to Tour loyalists. In an interview the day before, former Tour commissioner Deane Beman said of LIV, “They are trying to take advantage of what we created. They’re not competitors — they’re raiders.”

Gooch, Jones and Swafford did not make overly sympathetic plaintiffs because of the inconvenient fact they chose to leave the Tour despite knowing they would be barred from future events, and baked into their bloated upfront money from LIV was the potential lost earnings from missing the FedEx Cup.

Freeman, an impressively sharp presence on the bench, repeatedly came back to this point throughout the hearing. She was privy to the players’ contracts with LIV, as were the lawyers, and Peters made the compelling argument that Gooch’s bonus payout was larger than the $18 million that will go to the FedEx champ. With this as the backdrop, proving “irreparable harm” was a bridge too far. (Gooch is unwittingly turning into a wildly impactful player on the game’s history, a rung or two below Jones, Palmer and Woods.)

Beyond the particular issue of the TRO, this day in court served as an unwitting preview of the upcoming antitrust case, for which Freeman (below) set a tentative trial date of September 2023. The Tour tipped its hand by arguing it can’t be a monopoly because LIV has already been so successful barging into the marketplace. A slide was presented showing the PIP results for 2021, and five of the top 10 most impactful players by the Tour’s own measurements have now joined LIV. In what serves as a tidy coda for this unprecedented moment in professional golf, Peters said with a touch of wistfulness, “The competition is fierce.”

8 thoughts on “Temporary Respite”

  1. On the general topic of PGALIV:

    1. On this website, I think, as well as a podcast/radio interview, Alan S. has made a very good point: the appeal of the sport of golf, world-wide as well as here in the US, is best described as ‘limited’, compared to the appeal of sports such as soccer, American football and basketball… and probably others. So to dilute/distract from what the public recognizes as ‘golf’ is not a good thing as far as awareness of golf is concerned.

    2. When the LIV tour was first announced, what I thought of was the CART/IRL split in Indy car racing in the US…and in my view Indy car racing in general (and the Indianapolis 500 in particular) has NEVER recovered.

    All of which doesn’t portend well for professional golf (sportswashing aside).

    1. Exactly, you just gave the best reason for the 2 sides to work things out so pro golf will ultimately flourish and move forward. Plenty of room for both.

      1. I’m not certain it is reasonable to expect the PGA Tour to try to accommodate LIV in any way–to a first approximation if LIV succeeds in their goals, the PGA Tour as currently constituted will no longer exist.

        Seems to me it is sort of like war–if Country A states it desire to push Country B (and its people) into the sea…and then acts on it…how should Country B respond? To ‘work things out’?

        As always, I guess the devil’s in the details…

  2. Lawyers, Guns, and Money by Warren Zevon would have been a great choice, and apropos, for the bumper music on the podcast.

  3. Early win counts, but bigger issue is in legal limbo for at least another year. And if not ‘23, getting pushed out to ‘25. Not so nice for the game. But maybe top AMs and budding pros will be more wary of the mega million lottery. Does the Collective think this will impact the discussions already launched with LPGA/LET?

  4. Interesting listening to all the podcasts after the hearing. I think the success of the suit to play the Scottish Open (??? I think that was the one prior to The Open they got an exemption for) highlights the differences between the DP Tour and the PGA Tour in US, at least ruling wise.
    Frankly I think the popularity of golf will suffer with the whole thing, as brangling in court is never a favorable image.

  5. Alan may be a little dramatic in calling this a battle for “golf’s soul”. In reality it’s merely the sport’s entertainment market wrestling with competing product. Economics drive all professional sports, and the judicial system is often just a tool employed for leverage by competitors. Even though the billable legal fees will be mind blowing, the chance of a courtroom conclusion and decision on this antitrust suit is slim. Probably less likely than Chase Koepka winning a major. Settlement or dismissal of these suits are the normal course and outcome.
    As an aside, our group of golf afficionados wonder if Mr. Shipnuck’s access to “off the record ” player comments has been compromised through all this tearing at golf’s soul. That would be a piece of sport’s journalism that we’d love to read!!!

  6. Raiders? Perhaps they are raiders but I cannot help but think the PGA Tour left themselves vulnerable. Time will tell.

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