Phil Mickelson and 10 other professional golfers are suing the PGA Tour, arguing the organisation has violated US antitrust law by suspending the players after they joined rival Saudi Arabia-backed circuit LIV Golf, which began earlier this summer.
The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in federal court in California, deepens the feud between the tours. It follows an investigation launched last month by the US Department of Justice into whether the PGA Tour engaged in anti-competitive behaviour.
Mickelson, a six-time winner of the sport’s elite Grand Slam events and a veteran of the PGA Tour for three decades, is a plaintiff in the lawsuit along with fellow professionals Bryson DeChambeau, Talor Gooch and others. The golfers were suspended by the tour earlier this year after electing to join LIV Golf, an emerging rival offering large payouts to players which is majority-owned by Saudi’s $620bn sovereign wealth fund.
According to the complaint, the PGA Tour’s punishment of the players is “an intentional and relentless effort to crush nascent competition before it threatens the Tour’s monopoly”. They argue that the PGA Tour, one of the dominant forces in professional golf, has diminished competition, denied the players opportunities to earn income, and have negatively affected their reputations and brands.
The players have asked for a temporary restraining order to allow them to participate in the lucrative upcoming PGA Tour playoffs known as the FedEx Cup, which begins later this month.
A spokesman for the PGA Tour did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Tour has already acknowledged the DoJ probe into its business practices, though it has also said it does not expect to be sanctioned.
LIV Golf has generated controversy due to the billions its Saudi backer has committed to the venture and its willingness to directly challenge the incumbent tours in the US and Europe.
Golf’s governing bodies have not granted the players in LIV events the chance to earn the ranking points that are used to determine qualification for the sport’s four annual Grand Slam events. If the litigation is successful, LIV players with access to the PGA Tour could still continue to accrue ranking points to qualify for the four major events, which are unavailable to them.
Critics of LIV Golf allege that the tour is engaged in “sportswashing” to improve Saudi Arabia’s global reputation. LIV paid a rumoured $200mn to Mickelson to lure him to the newfound circuit.
Earlier this week, LIV Golf chief executive and Australian golf legend Greg Norman told Fox News that the tour had offered Tiger Woods between $700mn-$800mn to join, which he declined.