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LIV-PGA: Winning The Battle, Losing The War

A big win in court for the PGA Tour -- but this is only the battle, not the war...

Last week, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, and 9 other golfers who joined the Saudi-backed LIV Golf filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Three of these LIV Golfers in particular -- Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, and Matt Jones -- were also seeking emergency relief as part of the larger antitrust case. Specifically, these three were seeking a temporary restraining order to be allowed to compete in the PGA Tour's upcoming FedEx Cup Playoffs and get around their PGA-issued suspensions. This was positioned as emergency relief since the postseason begins Thursday. They needed the Judge to rule in their favor in order to compete but that’s not what happened. However, the day's events might be a LIV win in the long run. Two major stories on the LIV-PGA front to consider:

First, Judge Beth Labson Freeman entertained oral argument on the TRO issue for approximately two hours. She ultimately ruled that the LIV golfers had failed to show irreparable harm if the TRO was not granted, i.e., that a subsequent monetary award could not make the players whole. Separately, Judge Freeman found that the players had not established a likelihood of success on the merits in the underlying antitrust case. Ouch. Naturally, in denying this relief, Judge Freeman dealt a big blow to the LIV golfers' legal claim but it was yesterday's OTHER development that may be real cause for concern if you’re the PGA Tour.

Reports are swirling that Cameron Smith, the #2 ranked golfer in the world, has agreed to a staggering $100M deal to join the LIV Tour. Smith has not confirmed himself but he didn't deny it when asked today. If true, it would be the biggest PGA Tour defection to date.

On the one hand, it would certainly seem to help the PGA Tour's antitrust defense. This is because a top golfer like Cam Smith leaving would be seen as an indication that the PGA Tour does not exert true monopoly power over any and all competitors. Quite the opposite actually -- that LIV is able to compete with the PGA so much so that they lured one of their top golfers coming off a massive win at the 2022 British Open. In that sense, though it might help the PGA Tour with its legal case, it would be a heavy blow to the business of the PGA Tour. If they can lose a Cam Smith, anyone really could be next to go.

The PGA Tour clearly has won Round 1 — let’s not undersell it… but the war at the epicenter of pro golf is far from over.

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