In her ruling against the players, U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman said they failed to show that their exclusion from the PGA Tour season-ending event constituted “irreparable harm,” noting that would make more money by participating in the LIV Golf series.
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“The evidence shows almost without a doubt that they will win more than they would have won and could reasonably have been expected to win in a reasonable timeframe within the tournament setting,” Freeman said.
The request for a temporary restraining order was part of a federal antitrust lawsuit filed last week by 11 golfers who say their careers were hurt when the PGA Tour punished them for signing with competitor LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed start-up that has lured some of the biggest names in the sport with eight- and nine-figure contracts.
A spokesperson for LIV said in a statement Tuesday: “We are disappointed that Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones are not permitted to play golf. No one wins by banning golfers from playing.
Tuesday’s hearing was narrowly focused on the request for the temporary restraining order, not the broader antitrust issues, but Freeman’s ruling and comments regarding irreparable harm is a significant legal victory for the PGA Tour. The judge had access to some of the golfers’ contract details, which were redacted in court documents, and said the players clearly understood what they were giving up by signing with LIV Golf.
“It appears to the court that the LIV contracts negotiated by the players and entered into between the parties were based on the players’ calculation of what they would leave behind and the amount the players would need to monetize to make up for those losses,” Freeman 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 by the PGA Tour when they made the jump to LIV Golf.
Based on the most recent rankings, the three golfers requesting the temporary restraining order would have qualified to play in the tournament – Gooch (#20 in FedEx Cup rankings), Jones (#62) and Swafford ( #63) – but they were banned by the PGA Tour.
In urging Freeman to deny the golfers’ claims, lawyers for the PGA Tour said in court filings that the LIV golfers wanted to “have their cake and eat it too,” cashing the Saudi checks while trying to earn money. PGA Tour money. end of season tournaments. Tour attorney Elliot R. Peters told the court that allowing LIV golfers to participate in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event would be “devastating” to the tour.
“If we are ordered to lift the suspension and they show up Thursday morning to play in their LIV Golf hats 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 opportunity to promote it by its players during our flagship event? It’s not fair to the PGA Tour.
Without addressing the antitrust allegations, Freeman repeatedly noted that LIV Golf had made progress in becoming a competitive entity in a relatively short period of time. At one point, the tour’s lawyer shared a slide showing that half of the top 10 Player Impact players on the tour last year left for the Saudi-backed breakaway organization.
“It’s remarkable,” Freeman said.
That group includes DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, but three tournaments into its first year, LIV Golf’s ranks apparently continue to grow. Cameron Smith, the Australian who won the British Open last month, has agreed to a $100million deal and will soon be jumping circuits, according to the Telegraph, and fellow Australian Marc Leishman is also believed to be linked with LIV.
Smith is on the court at St. Jude Championship this week and declined to discuss his plans at a press conference on Tuesday. “My goal here is to win the FedEx Cup Qualifiers. That’s all I’m here for,” he told reporters. “I have no comment on that.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, Freeman didn’t spend much time considering the merits of the antitrust claims laid out in the lawsuit, focusing on the request for a temporary restraining order. Lawyers for the players told the court the golfers should be allowed to play PGA Tour-sanctioned events as they appeal their suspensions.
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Tour lawyers, meanwhile, argued the players waited too long – less than a week before the first round of St. Jude’s championship – to seek emergency intervention, urging the court in a record to “use its equitable powers to address genuine emergencies, not designed by parties who have knowingly accepted multimillion-dollar payments to put themselves in the situation they find themselves in.
Lawyers have sometimes alluded to redacted portions of court documents that apparently disclose details of players’ contracts with LIV Golf. At some point on Tuesday, players’ attorney Robert C. Walters referenced player earnings from LIV events counting towards the upfront money they received for signing up for the Starter Series, which which LIV officials have repeatedly denied.
While the LIV players’ trial will continue — Freeman has indicated a trial may not take place until next summer — the Justice Department is also investigating the tour for possible antitrust violations, according to the Wall Street Journal.
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