The saga between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour, as well as PGA’s exclusive broadcaster the Golf Channel, has reached another breaking point. On Tuesday, August 16th, Patrick Reed filed a defamation lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, against Brandel Chamblee and Golf Channel requesting $750 million in damages.
This may seem like an inordinate amount of relief, but when taking a closer look at the adversarial history between Reed and Chamblee, it becomes much clearer why Reed thinks that he deserves every last penny. In 2019 Reed sent a cease-and-desist letter to Chamblee after Chamblee accused Reed of cheating at the 2019 Hero World Challenge. Consequently, Chamblee doubled down on his criticism of Reed. According to Reed, Chamblee’s comments have caused “emotional, reputational and pecuniary harm” to Reed, and went further to say that the entirety of Chamblee’s criticism was “false and defamatory.” Reed claims that Chamblee’s commentary cost him millions of dollars in lost sponsorships and created a hostile work environment that spilled over to Reed’s family. Reed went as far as to include examples of the heckling that he claims to endure. The personal attacks Reed claims to have heard from golf fans include: “You jackass!”; “You piece of sh*t!”; “Everyone hates you cheater!”; and “Beat the cheater’s a**!”, among many verbal jabs stated in Reed’s complaint.
On the other hand, Patrick Reed is a professional athlete and Brandel Chamblee is a commentator. Both Chamblee’s and Reed’s job is to entertain the public. Reed unquestionably entertained the public in his nine PGA Tour wins, and Chamblee’s pot-stirring commentary certainly gave golf fans plenty of material for the water-cooler. It is well-documented that Chamblee has taken a firm stance against all former PGA Tour members who decided to join the Saudi Arabian-backed LIV Golf tour.
All former members of the PGA Tour who decide to join LIV Golf should reasonably understand the backlash and public discontent that this decision would evoke. However, the recoil felt by Reed could surely be greater than any other defectors due to his reputation as one of the lesser-like members of the PGA Tour. In a Golf Digest interview from 2018, another prominent member of the PGA Tour, Kevin Kisner asserted that Reed was hated by all members of his University of Georgia college golf team, and that same sentiment carried over with Reed’s peers in the PGA Tour.
When it comes to defamation, courts have ruled that public figures, including government officials, have the burden of proving that defendants libeled them with actual malice. Since Reed is a public figure, in the eyes of the law, he must establish that the PGA Tour and Chamblee acted with actual malice and made knowingly false assertions with clear and convincing evidence. As for Golf Channel’s and Chamblee’s defense against Reed’s allegations, the Southern District of Texas has adopted and utilized the “substantial-truth doctrine” in libel or defamation cases. This means that as long as the gist of the message was true, or the bulk of a statement is true, then there is no case for defamation. It is well documented that Reed is not well liked among his peers in professional golf, nor by the fans. Additionally, Reed was found to have cheated in the 2019 Hero World Challenge and received a two-stroke penalty for his actions. Therefore, Golf Channel and Chamblee will likely have a very strong case as to why their actions do not constitute defamation.
On a larger scale, the palpable increase of tension and hostility between the former PGA Tour players who have since defected to LIV Golf and the rest of the golfing world is growing at an alarming rate. It is a practical certainty that this animosity will result in more lawsuits and greater division between the two sides. While the future of professional golf remains a mystery, it does not take a super sleuth to uncover the blatant shortcomings of Patrick Reed’s inadequate attempt to profit off his less-than-cherished reputation as a member of the PGA Tour.
Jacob Ehrlich is a rising 2L at New York Law School with a great passion for all sports and sports law. Jacob is interested in all areas of Sports Law, but especially athlete representation, intellectual property rights, and collective bargaining.