The PGA Tour has asked a federal judge to deny a temporary restraining order to three of its suspended members who left to compete on the rival LIV Golf Invitational Series and are seeking to participate in the FedEx Cup playoffs, arguing the players can’t “have their cake and eat it too.”
The three suspended members, Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford, are seeking relief from a federal judge to compete in the FedEx Cup playoffs, starting with this week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis, Tennessee.
In a motion filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Monday, attorneys representing the PGA Tour called the players’ injunction request “legally baseless.” A hearing to consider the players’ motion for a temporary restraining order is scheduled for Tuesday in San Jose, California.
“Despite knowing full well that they would breach TOUR Regulations and be suspended for doing so, Plaintiffs have joined competing golf league LIV Golf, which has paid them tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in guaranteed money supplied by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund to procure their breaches,” the motion said. “[Temporary restraining order] Plaintiffs now run into Court seeking a mandatory injunction to force their way into the TOUR’s season-ending FedExCup Playoffs, an action that would harm all TOUR members that follow the rules. The antitrust laws do not allow Plaintiffs to have their cake and eat it too.”
In a statement Monday, LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman reiterated his circuit’s belief that players are free agents and shouldn’t be forced to play exclusively on one tour.
“I believe players have the right to play when and where they choose so their talents can take them as far and high as possible,” Norman said. “I believe all players — whether they choose to play with LIV or the PGA Tour — understand and appreciate the purpose and importance of the players’ legal actions, across the globe. The PGA Tour is trying to cast this as ‘us’ against ‘them.’ The players know better.”
“The punishment that would accrue to these players from not being able to play in the FedEx Cup Playoffs is substantial and irreparable,” the golfers’ attorneys wrote in the lawsuit, “and a temporary restraining order is needed to prevent the irreparable harm that would ensue were they not to be able to participate.”
The PGA Tour’s lawyers noted that Gooch, Jones and Swafford waited nearly two months to seek relief from the court, “fabricating an ’emergency’ they now maintain requires immediate action.”
“It doesn’t,” the tour’s attorneys wrote in the motion. “Their ineligibility for TOUR events was foreseeable when they accepted millions from LIV to breach their agreements with the TOUR, and they knew for a fact that they were suspended on June 9. The harm they now allege from their suspensions is 100% economic and capable of redress with money damages.
“Indeed, several other LIV players including four other Plaintiffs in this case recognize there is no emergency or irreparable harm; they too have qualified to play in the FedExCup but have not asked the Court for the extraordinary relief sought through this motion. The Court should use its equitable powers to redress real emergencies, not engineered ones by parties who knowingly accepted multi-million-dollar payouts to place themselves in the situation they are in.”
The top 125 players in the FedEx Cup standings are eligible to compete in the FedEx St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind. Gooch is 20th in the standings, Jones is 65th and Swafford is 67th.
“LIV is not a rational economic actor, competing fairly to start a golf tour,” the tour’s attorneys wrote in the motion. “It is prepared to lose billions of dollars to leverage Plaintiffs and the sport of golf to ‘sportswash’ the Saudi government’s deplorable reputation for human rights abuses. If Plaintiffs are allowed to breach their TOUR contracts without consequence, the entire mutually beneficial structure of the TOUR, an arrangement that has grown the sport and promoted the interests of golfers going back to Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, would collapse.”
There are 122 players currently in the field for the FedEx St. Jude Championship. Three players who qualified aren’t participating in the first leg of the playoffs: Tommy Fleetwood (personal), Daniel Berger (back injury) and Lanto Griffin (back surgery).