The PGA Tour’s fight with LIV Golf reaches the Justice Department

The conflict in men’s professional golf has spilled over into a new environment, with the Justice Department investigating the PGA Tour for anti-competitive behavior in its dealings with the breakaway LIV Golf Series, a tour spokesman confirmed Monday.

The PGA Tour has suspended players who violated tour regulations by participating in two recent LIV Golf events without PGA Tour permission. Greg Norman, chief executive of LIV Golf, whose main shareholder is Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, criticized the tour’s position as an “illegal monopoly”.

Jay Monaghan, the PGA Tour commissioner, has repeatedly countered that his organization’s policy would be without legal review, including if a lawsuit is filed by a suspended PGA Tour member, which is expected. The PGA Tour pointed to a 1994 federal investigation that looked into disciplinary action against tour golfers who played in a non-PGA Tour event without the commissioner’s permission. The tour was not federally sanctioned at the time.

“We went through this in 1994 and are confident of a similar outcome,” Laura Neal, executive vice president of the PGA Tour, wrote in an email Monday. Of the Justice Department investigation, Neal said, “It was not unexpected.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment, following a longstanding policy of neither confirming nor denying reports of an ongoing investigation.

The PGA Tour investigation was first reported in The Wall Street Journal. LIV Golf representatives did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The LIV Golf circuit, which has hosted two of the eight events scheduled this year, has attracted several prominent players from the PGA Tour with large upfront payments and appearance fees. Phil Mickelson, a six-time major winner, took home $200 million.

The LIV tournaments offered a total prize money of $20 million, with the last place contestant guaranteed $120,000. With a separate pool of money for team competition, some golfers have earned nearly $1 million in a single event after finishing in the bottom third of the field. The Rebel Circuit has also attracted PGA Tour players by offering a limited schedule, though LIV Golf plans to expand its schedule to 14 tournaments next year, roughly the same number as a typical PGA Tour golfer currently on tour.

Still, big names like Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia and Louis Oosthuizen left the PGA Tour for the LIV Golf Series. The world rankings of almost all players in this group have been declining in recent seasons. And ranking points, which are key for players to qualify for golf’s four major championships, are not available at LIV Golf events.

Mickelson dropped from 38th to 92nd in the men’s world rankings. Garcia went from 45 to 68. DeChambeau started the year ranked ninth and is now 33rd, while Johnson, who was ranked eighth this year, is now 18th.

Mickelson, 52, was heavily criticized and lost several longtime corporate sponsors this year when he admitted he backed the LIV Golf Series because he saw it as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to use the PGA Tour for extended payouts to players. . However, at the LIV events, he looked uncomfortable on the golf course.

He shot better than 75 just once in two tournaments and went 10 over in each event.

Last week, three LIV-affiliated golfers challenged their suspension from a Scottish golf tournament in a British court and won a temporary stay, allowing them to participate in the event. The commissioner of the DP World Tour, the former European tour that issued suspensions against the LIV golfers – and fined each about $120,000 – has vowed to continue to press the courts to uphold the discipline.

Monaghan was confident of his tour position in the duel with LIV Golf as well.

Late last month, in response to LIV Golf’s numerous tournament payouts, Monaghan announced significant prize increases in future PGA Tour events, adding that the tour will “ultimately emerge from the current challenge stronger because of the loyalty and support of our players.” fans.”

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