Judge rejects LIV players’ bid to play PGA Tour FedEx Cup playoffs

Suspension

The FedEx Cup qualifiers on the PGA Tour will take place without any of the players who have defected to the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational Series.

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected the offer of three golfers — Taylor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford — who are seeking places in St. Petersburg this week. Judd Championships, which begins Thursday in Memphis. The trio sought a temporary restraining order that would allow them to play in the season-ending FedEx Cup Playoffs, a three-league competition featuring the top 125 golfers in the season standings.

In his ruling against the players, U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman said they failed to prove their exclusion from the PGA Tour’s end-of-season event amounted to “irreparable harm,” noting that they could earn more money by competing in the LIV Golf Series.

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“The evidence shows almost without a doubt that they were going to get more than they otherwise would have been reasonably expected to achieve in a reasonable amount of time under the championships,” Freeman said.

The temporary restraining order request was part of a federal antitrust lawsuit filed last week by 11 golfers who claimed their careers were damaged when the PGA Tour punished them for signing with rival LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed startup that attracted some. One of the biggest names in sports with decades of eight and nine numbers.

A LIV spokesperson said in a statement on Tuesday: “We are disappointed that Taylor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones will not be allowed to play golf. No one wins by stopping golfers from playing.”

Tuesday’s hearing focused narrowly on the temporary restraining order request, not broader antitrust issues, but Freeman’s ruling and her comments regarding irreparable harm amounted to an important legal win for the PGA Tour. The judge had access to some details of the golfers’ contract, which were redacted in court filings, 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 calculating what they would leave behind and the amount the players would need to generate income to compensate for those losses,” Freeman said.

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The 11 golfers behind the lawsuit – Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Guch, Swafford, Jones, Ian Poulter, Abraham Anser, Carlos Ortiz, Pat Perez, Jason Kokrac and Peter Oehlen – were suspended by the PGA Tour when they made the jump to LIV golf.

Based on the latest ranking, the three golfers seeking a temporary restraining order had qualified to compete in the tournament – Gooch (No. 20 in the FedEx Cup standings), Jones (No. 62) and Swafford (No. 63) – but had been banned by PGA Tour.

Urging Freeman to turn down the golfers’ requests, PGA Tour attorneys said in court filings that LIV golfers wanted to “have their cake and eat it too,” cashing Saudi-backed checks while still trying to make money from the PGA Tour’s end-of-season tournaments. Tour attorney, Elliot R. Peters, told the court that allowing LIV golfers to compete in an event sanctioned by the PGA Tour would be “disruptive” to the Tour.

“If we are ordered to lift the suspension and they show up Thursday morning to play with their LIV golf hats, LIV golf shirts and their press conferences on LIV Golf, our event becomes a platform for our competitors,” Peters told the referee. Tuesday. “…Don’t LIV Golf like it? The opportunity to have its players promote it in our flagship event? That’s not fair for the PGA Tour.”

Although antitrust claims have not been addressed, Freeman has indicated on multiple occasions that LIV Golf has made great strides in becoming a competitive entity in a relatively short period of time. At one point, tour attorneys shared a slide that showed half of the top 10 players on the Tour’s Player Impact program last year had left for the Saudi-backed separatist organization.

“That’s cool,” Freeman said.

That group includes DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, but three championships in its first year, LIV Golf’s ranks seem to be still growing. Cameron Smith, the Australian who won the British Open last month, has agreed to a $100 million contract and will soon be jumping in the ring, according to The Telegraph, with compatriot Mark Leishman also reportedly tied to the LIV team.

Smith in the field at St. Judd starred and declined to discuss his plans at a news conference Tuesday. “My goal here is to win FedEx Cup games. That’s all I’m here for.” “I have no comment on that.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, Freeman didn’t spend much time looking at the benefits of the antitrust lawsuits laid out in the lawsuit, focusing on the temporary restraining order request. The players’ attorneys told the court that golfers should be allowed to compete in PGA Tour events while they are appealing the suspension.

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Tour lawyers argued that, henceforth, the players waited too long – less than a week before the first round of St. Petersburg. Starring Judd – to request emergency intervention, urging the court in a file to “use its fair powers to address genuine emergencies, not those designed by parties who have willfully accepted multi-million dollar payments to put themselves in the situation they are in.”

Lawyers have at times alluded to redacted portions of court files that appear to reveal details of players’ contracts with LIV Golf. At one point on Tuesday, players’ attorney Robert C. Walters referred to player earnings from LIV events being counted against the upfront money they got to sign with the startup series, something that has been repeatedly denied.

While the LIV players’ lawsuit will continue — Freeman noted that a trial may not happen until next summer — the Department of Justice is also investigating the round for potential antitrust violations, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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