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The PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs will be held without any of the players who defected to the Saudi-sponsored LIV Golf Invitational Series.
A federal judge on Tuesday turned down bids from three golfers — Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford — who were seeking a spot at this week’s St. Jude Championship, which begins Thursday in Memphis. The trio had applied for an injunction that would allow them to play in the season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs, a three-tournament competition featuring the top 125 golfers from the entire season.
In her ruling against the players, U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman said they failed to show their suspension from the PGA Tour’s season-ending season was “irreparable harm,” noting that by competing in the LIV golf series, they could make more money.
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“The evidence shows almost unequivocally that they will earn more than they would have earned and could reasonably have earned in a reasonable period of time from the tournaments,” Freeman said.
The request for an injunction was part of a federal antitrust lawsuit filed last week by 11 golfers who claim their careers were hurt when the PGA Tour fined them for signing up with rival LIV Golf, that of Saudi -Arabia-backed start-up that had lured away some of the sport’s biggest names with eight- and nine-figure deals.
A LIV spokesman said in a statement on Tuesday: “We are disappointed that Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones will not be allowed to play golf. No one benefits from banning golfers from playing.”
Tuesday’s hearing focused narrowly on the injunction request, not the broader antitrust issues, but Freeman’s ruling and comments on irreparable damages represent an important legal win for the PGA Tour. The judge had access to some of the golfers’ contract details that were redacted from the court filing and said the players clearly understood what they were waiving by signing with LIV Golf.
“The court appears that the LIV contracts negotiated by players and executed between the parties were based on players’ calculations of what they would leave behind and the amount players would need to monetize to recover those losses,” Freeman said said.
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The 11 golfers behind the lawsuit — Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Gooch, Swafford, Jones, Ian Poulter, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Pat Perez, Jason Kokrak and Peter Uihlein — were suspended from the PGA Tour when they made the jump to LIV managed golf.
Based on the most recent ranking, the three golfers seeking the injunction would have qualified to play in the tournament – Gooch (No. 20 in FedEx Cup standings), Jones (No. 62) and Swafford (No. 63) — but they were banned from the PGA Tour.
PGA Tour attorneys urged Freeman to deny the golfers’ motions, saying in court filings that the LIV golfers “wanted to have their pie and eat it too” by cashing the Saudi-backed checks while trying to raise money Earn with the PGA Tour Season-ending tournaments. Tour attorney Elliot R. Peters told the court that allowing LIV golfers to compete in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event would be “devastating” to the Tour.
“When we are ordered to lift the suspension and they show up on Thursday mornings to play in their LIV Golf caps and LIV Golf shirts and their press conferences are about LIV Golf, our event becomes a stage for our competitor.” , Peters told the judge Tuesday. “…Wouldn’t LIV Golf like that? The possibility of his players promoting it at our marquee event? It’s not fair to the PGA Tour.”
Without addressing the antitrust claims, Freeman has repeatedly noted that LIV Golf has made strides in a relatively short period of time to become a competitive company. At one point, the tour attorney shared a slide showing that half of the top 10 players in the tour’s Player Impact Program last year had left for the Saudi-backed breakaway organization.
“That’s remarkable,” Freeman said.
That group includes DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, but three tournaments into his burgeoning year, LIV Golf’s ranks appear to be still growing. Cameron Smith, the Australian who won the British Open last month, has agreed to a $100m deal and will soon skip the circuit, according to the Telegraph, and his compatriot Marc Leishman is also reportedly tied to LIV.
Smith is fielding at the St. Jude Championship this week and declined to discuss his plans at a Tuesday news conference. “My goal here is to win the FedEx Cup Playoffs. That’s all I’m here for,” he told reporters. “I have no comment on that.”
At Tuesday’s hearing, Freeman did not spend much time examining the merits of the antitrust claims set forth in the lawsuit, focusing on the injunction request. The players’ attorneys told the court that the golfers should be allowed to attend PGA Tour-sanctioned events as they appeal their suspensions.
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The tour’s attorneys, meanwhile, argued the players waited too long — less than a week before the first round of the St. Jude Championship — to seek emergency intervention, and issued a filing urging the court to “use its reasonable powers.” to resolve real emergencies. not constructed by parties who knowingly accepted multi-million dollar payouts to put themselves in the situation they find themselves in.”
Attorneys at times alluded to redacted portions of the court filing, which appeared to reveal details of the players’ contracts with LIV Golf. At one point Tuesday, players’ attorney Robert C. Walters referenced player earnings from LIV events being counted against upfront payments they received for signing up for the start-up series, echoing LIV officials have denied.
While the LIV players’ lawsuit continues — Freeman hinted a trial may not happen until next summer — the Justice Department is also investigating the tour for possible antitrust violations, according to The Wall Street Journal.