PGA Tour Files Motion Opposing LIV Golfers’ Temporary Restraining Order



Last week, multiple golfers competing in the LIV Golf Invitational Series (LIV Golf) filed a lawsuit against the PGA Tour, including a request for injunctive relief via a temporary restraining order to allow Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, and Matt Jones to compete in the FedExCup playoffs. Citing the millions of dollars the golfers have earned by participating in LIV Golf events, the PGA Tour has filed a motion opposing the golfers’ temporary restraining order.


For a temporary restraining order to succeed, the golfers must show the following:


  • A substantial likelihood of success on the merits;

  • That they will be irreparably harmed without relief;

  • That the golfers’ injuries outweigh the harm a temporary restraining order would cause the PGA Tour; and

  • That the temporary restraining order would serve the public interest.


Forecasting its response to last week’s complaint, the PGA Tour takes the position that the golfers cannot prove any of the elements required for a court to grant a temporary restraining order.


Irreparable Harm


Initially, the PGA Tour focused on the irreparable harm factor. Specifically, the PGA Tour noted that the golfers delayed filing for injunctive relief (the PGA Tour suspended the golfers in early June), suggesting that their injuries are not immediate. Similarly, the PGA Tour noted that monetary damages can redress the golfers’ injuries, which is seldom an irreparable injury.


As to the golfers’ allegations of non-monetary injuries (harm to the golfers’ reputations and brands), the PGA Tour dismissed the allegations stating, “[a]ny reputational harms [the golfers] may suffer are far more likely to arise from their alignment with LIV and its efforts to paper over Saudi Arabia’s long and well-documented history of human rights abuses than their suspension from the [PGA Tour] for violating its rules.”


Harm to the PGA Tour and Public Interest


After dismissing the harm to the golfers, the PGA Tour noted the harm allowing the golfers to compete would cause the PGA Tour, including irreparable harm that would if the PGA Tour cannot enforce its own rules. Plus, the damage caused “if [the PGA Tour] is forced to give a stage to players engaged with LIV [Golf] and to associate the [PGA Tour] brand with the Saudi government’s efforts to ‘sportswash’ its deplorable reputation.”


Thus, the PGA Tour does not believe that any alleged injuries to the golfers outweigh the harm to the PGA Tour.

As to public interest, the PGA Tour briefly touched on the point. Summarily, a temporary restraining order harms the public interest because allowing the golfers to play on both tours under the PGA Tour’s media rights agreement forces the PGA Tour to be associated with LIV Golf, which the PGA Tour considers deplorable.


Likelihood of Success on the Merits


Lastly, the PGA Tour argued that the golfers do not have a likelihood of success on the merits. Most notably, the PGA Tour notes that LIV Golf has successfully entered the market for golfers’ services, citing LIV Golf’s 48 professional golfers.


At the same time, the PGA Tour cited the golfers’ breaches of the PGA Tour’s regulations and corresponding media rights agreement. “What [the golfers] cannot do . . . is enter into annual agreements with the [PGA Tour] that grant the [PGA Tour] their media rights, breach those agreements by granting conflicting media rights to LIV [Golf], and then force the [PGA Tour] to allow LIV [Golf] to freeride off the [PGA Tour’s] investment and goodwill . . . .”


Interestingly, the PGA Tour argued the likelihood of success on the merits as their last point, suggesting they do not have as much confidence in their argument. Whether the PGA Tour will ultimately succeed remains to be determined.


Takeaways


The PGA Tour has forecasted its response to the LIV Golfers’ complaint. It is clear that the PGA Tour will argue that LIV Golfers receive ample amounts of money. Further, the PGA Tour does not have a monopoly due to the success of LIV Golf and LIV golfers’ breaches of PGA Tour regulations, which led to breaches of the PGA Tour’s media rights agreements.


Other LIV golfers, including Ian Poulter, were successful in staying suspensions levied by the DP World Tour, which allowed them to play in DP World Tour events. However, due to the delay in seeking relief and that most of the golfers’ alleged damages are monetary, the golfers in this case are unlikely to be successful on a temporary restraining order, which would keep them out of the FedExCup playoffs.


Landis Barber is an attorney at Safran Law Offices in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or via his blog offthecourtdocket.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Landisbarber.