PGA Tour Tees Off in Countersuit Against LIV Golf Tour
Photo Source: Steven L. Shepard, AT&T Pebble Beach Weekend, FLICKR (Feb. 11, 2017) (Public Domain Mark 1.0)
By: Anna D’Eramo* Posted: 11/04/2022
In June 2022, LIV Golf Tour hosted its inaugural event in London. The tournament attracted some of golf’s biggest names, drawing in a captivated audience. As the players teed off, so did a legal battle between LIV Golf Tour and the PGA Tour that put players right in the middle.
What is LIV Golf Tour?
LIV Golf Tour was formed as an alternative to the PGA Tour, offering a different golf experience to both players and spectators. The Invitational Series holds eight events over five months across the globe. LIV Golf Tour is formatted differently from the PGA Tour. However, the prize money is the biggest and most controversial draw. Whereas the PGA Tour's funding comes significantly from media deals, the Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund finances the LIV Golf Tour. Many view LIV Golf as yet another "sportwashing" tactic the country employs to smooth over its global image.
Despite the controversial background, LIV Golf convinced over forty players to join the 2022 season. In an effort to combat LIV’s popularity, the PGA Tour initially threatened suspensions or fines for those who competed in LIV Golf events. After the first LIV Golf tournament, the PGA Tour reaffirmed its position and banned players from PGA Tour events.
Justice Department and LIV Golf Begin Legal Actions Against PGA Tour
In July, the Justice Department opened an investigation on whether the PGA Tour’s actions toward players were anti-competitive, particularly focusing on the warnings sent to those interested in joining LIV Golf and suspensions against players who left the PGA Tour. In addition, the Justice Department is concerned about the PGA Tour’s potential conspiring not to award Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points to LIV players. Without OGWR points, LIV golfers will lose out on opportunities solely due to involvement in LIV Golf.
In August, LIV Golf Tour and its players – recently suspended PGA Tour members – filed an antitrust suit against the PGA Tour. The players contested their suspensions from the PGA Tour and viewed it as a way to shut down any sign of competition at the first opportunity. LIV Golf argued that the PGA Tour is monopolizing the golf market, and players argued that the PGA Tour is “trying to hurt their careers.” Three players, in particular, sought a temporary restraining order to play in a PGA Tour event. The lawsuit highlights the PGA Tour’s coordination with the European tour and major championships to limit players’ opportunities.
LIV Golf suffered an early loss in the lawsuit, with an initial hearing handed to the PGA Tour, but it has moved to the discovery phase. Most players have since backed out of the suit, believing LIV’s involvement will carry the suit's merits. Despite players backing out and the initial hearing decided for the PGA Tour, LIV Golf remains confident in its case against the PGA Tour.
PGA Countersues LIV Golf
On September 28, the PGA Tour added another layer to the legal drama when they countersued LIV Golf. The counterclaim alleges “tortious interference” in PGA Tour contracts and efforts to have players breach those contracts. According to the PGA Tour, LIV Golf takes advantage of its large salaries to induce players to breach their PGA Tour contracts and attempts to undermine the legitimacy of those contracts. They argue that LIV aimed to create an environment where players could benefit from involvement in both tours. The PGA Tour asked for a jury trial, while LIV Golf maintains the countersuit is a way for the PGA to “divert attention from their anti-competitive conduct.”
The golf world is dividing with every new legal action, and leaders at the top are publicly adding fuel to the fire. In a recent interview, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said he sees no path forward where the PGA Tour and LIV Golf Tour can coexist. Monahan believes only one organization can ultimately reign supreme in the battle for top golf organization, and that organization will be the PGA Tour. Despite Monahan’s confidence, LIV Golf has caught the eye of golf fans, and, for now, it seems here to stay.
*Staff Writer, Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports Law Journal, J.D. Candidate, May 2024, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law
 See Jacob Camenker, What Does LIV Golf Stand For? Explaining the Name, Meaning of the Saudi-Backed Invitational Tour, The Sporting News (Sept. 2, 2022), https://www.sportingnews.com/us/golf/news/liv-golf-tour-name-invitational-series-meaning-explained/ietdisstrdtxa8k3u2s5c5kq (noting LIV is “newest golf competition” looking to be permanent fixture in sport).
 See id. (listing players such as Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson as those who joined the tour).
 See Mark Schlabach, PGA Tour Suspends All Players Taking Part in First LIV Golf Tournament, ESPN (June 9, 2022), https://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/34063037/pga-tour-suspends-all-players-taking-part-first-liv-golf-tournament (recounting PGA Tour’s position that players must recognize consequences of choosing LIV Golf over PGA Tour).
 See Nick Hall, What is LIV Golf? The Tour That Has the Sporting World Divided, Man of Many (Aug. 3, 2022), https://manofmany.com/entertainment/sport/what-is-liv-golf-tour (discussing differences between LIV Golf Tour and PGA Tour). LIV aims to adopt an “arena-style sporting events” and offers greater financial incentives than PGA Tour via appearance fees on top of prize money. Id. (describing inventive aspects of LIV Golf).
 See Who We Are, LIV Golf, https://www.livgolf.com/about (last accessed Oct. 5, 2022) (discussing LIV Golf Invitational Series).
 See Camenker, supra note 1 (noting LIV Golf is 54 holes, whereas PGA Tour is typically 72 holes).
 See Hall, supra note 4 (discussing combined $225 million in potential winnings players can earn across eight events).
 See James Colgan, PGA Tour Purses Keep Increasing, But Where is the Money Coming From?, Golf (Mar. 10, 2022), https://golf.com/news/pga-tour-purses-money-increasing-monahan/ (discussing PGA Tour commissioner’s explanation on increasing purses); see also Hall, supra note 4 (noting financing of LIV resulted in criticism from fans and human rights groups).
 See Tom Schad, LIV Golf Shines Spotlight On ‘Sportwashing’ – the Nascent Term for an Age-Old Strategy, USA Today (June 10, 2022), https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/golf/2022/06/10/sportswashing-explained-saudis-liv-golf/10003676002/ (describing the strategy of controversial countries to host “prestigious sporting event” in effort to “polish its global image.”). Sportwashing has been used to classify such events as the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Id. (listing recent examples of sportwashing).
 See Hall, supra note 4 (noting LIV pulled star performers from their PGA Tour duties).
 See id. (commenting on PGA Tour’s attempt to curb players who sought to compete in LIV without PGA’s permission).
 See Schlabach, supra note 3 (noting PGA tour suspended seventeen members and banned four others for LIV participation).
 See Mark Schlabach, U.S. Department of Justice Investigating PGA Tour for Behavior Toward LIV Golf, ESPN (July 11, 2022), https://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/34227586/us-department-justice-investigating-pga-tour-behavior-towards-liv-golf (detailing DOJ investigation).
 See id. (noting LIV Golf players did not receive world ranking points from first two LIV events).
 See Dave Shedloski, Here is Why the World Ranking System is So Critical to LIV Golf’s Longterm Viability, Golf Digest (June 24, 2022), https://www.golfdigest.com/story/liv-golf-applying-to-official-world-golf-ranking-pga-tour-greg-norman-jay-monahan (noting without points, LIV Golfers’ rankings will fall, risking eligibility for four major golf championships).
 See James Colgan, Phil Mickelson, 10 Other LIV Pros Sue PGA Tour for Antitrust Violations, Golf (Aug. 3, 2022), https://golf.com/news/phil-mickelson-liv-pga-tour-antitrust-suit/ (discussing LIV Golf professionals’ lawsuit against PGA Tour).
 See id. (recounting players’ argument that “suspensions are unlawfully harmful to their careers.”); see also Diane Bartz additional reporting by Frank Pingue, Mickelson, Other Golf Pros Sue PGA Tour in LIV Fight, Reuters (Aug. 3, 2022), https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/mickelson-other-golf-pros-sue-pga-tour-liv-fight-2022-08-03/ (“[C]arefully orchestrated plan to defeat competition . . . .”).
 See Louise Radnofsky & Andrew Beaton, Phil Mickelson and 10 Other LIV Golfers File Antitrust Lawsuit Against PGA Tour, Wall St. J., https://www.wsj.com/articles/liv-golf-phil-mickelson-sue-pga-tour-antitrust-fedex-cup-playoffs-11659544753 (last updated Aug. 3, 2022, 3:13 PM) (commenting on LIV Golf’s view that PGA Tour is using monopoly power to “restrict or drive up the price of LIV’s access to players.”).
 See id. (noting players qualified for event before joining LIV, then PGA Tour rescinded the qualification due to LIV participation).
 See id. (commenting these efforts are attempts to “cut off the players’ access to the golf ecosystem.”).
 See Sean Zak The Lawsuit Against the PGA Tour Just Lost its Star Plaintiff: Phil Mickelson, Golf (Sept. 27, 2022), https://golf.com/news/phil-mickelson-withdraws-from-liv-golf-pga-tour-lawsuit/ (noting PGA Tour’s win of initial hearing meant LIV Golfers could not compete in FedEx Cup Playoffs).
 See id. (discussing players, including Mickelson, who have removed themselves from the suit).
 See id. (“The merits of the lawsuit . . . still stand.”).
 See Jesus Jiménez, PGA Tour Accuses LIV Golf of Interfering with its Contracts, N.Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/29/sports/golf/pga-tour-liv-countersuit.html (discussing PGA Tour countersuit).
 See Andrew Beaton & Louise Radnofsky, The PGA Tour Strikes Back with Countersuit Against LIV Golf, Wall St. J., https://www.wsj.com/articles/liv-golf-pga-tour-lawsuit-11664460746?mod=sports_major_1_pos4 (last updated Sept. 29, 2022, 10:13 AM) (discussing PGA Tour’s allegations against LIV Golf).
 See Mark Schlabach, PGA Tour Countersuit Claims LIV Golf Induced Golfers to Breach Existing Contracts by Offering ‘Astronomical Sums of Money,’ ESPN (Sept. 29, 2022), https://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/34689459/pga-tour-countersuit-claims-liv-golf-induced-golfers-breach-existing-contracts-offering-astronomical-sums-money (claiming LIV Golf advised players “their agreements with the PGA Tour are unenforceable.”).
 See Jiménez, supra note 24 (“[A] key component of LIV’s strategy has been to intentionally induce tour members to breach their tour agreements and play in LIV events while seeking to maintain their tour memberships . . . .”).
 See id. (adding the PGA Tour seeks damages for “lost profits . . . ‘reputational and brand harm’ and other legal costs.”).
 See Nick Piastowski, Jay Monahan: PGA Tour, LIV Won’t Come Together – and They Can’t Co-Exist, Golf (Oct. 2, 2022), https://golf.com/news/jay-monahan-pga-tour-liv-come-together-co-exist/ (noting Jay Monahan’s consistent view across multiple interviews that PGA Tour and LIV Golf exist at odds).
 See id. (quoting Monahan, who believes PGA Tour and LIV Golf cannot come together).
 See id. (quoting Monahan, who sees PGA Tour as “highest level”).
 See Will Johnson, Harris Poll Shows PGA Tour Vs. LIV Shaping up to be a Generational Battle, Sports Illustrated (June 29, 2022), https://www.si.com/golf/news/harris-poll-shows-pga-tour-vs-liv-shaping-up-to-be-a-generational-battle#:~:text=The%20Harris%20Poll%20surveyed%20Americans,a%20whole%20are%20LIV%2Dcurious. (discussing survey showing openness to LIV Golf, despite Saudi connection).