Image via New York Times
As first reported by Eamon Lynch, the PGA Tour has suspended all players participating in the LIV Golf Invitational Series, which kicked off this morning. The suspension comes after multiple notable players, including Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, have left to join the PGA Tour to participate in the LIV Golf Invitational Series.
The suspensions are what PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was hinting at when the commissioner stated during a meeting with the players that there would be ramifications if players participated in the LIV Golf Invitational Series.
In the letter, commissioner Monahan makes it clear that the LIV Golf Invitational series players did not receive conflicting event and media rights releases. Thus, the players have violated the PGA Tour’s tournament regulations, and as a result, the players are suspended or ineligible to participate in PGA Tour events.
Of note, multiple players have informed the PGA Tour that they resigned their membership, including Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Kevin Na, and Louis Oosthuizen, among others. For those players, the PGA Tour will remove their memberships from the FedExCup Points List.
For LIV Golf players that have not resigned from the PGA Tour, including Phil Mickelson, commissioner Monahan ensured remaining PGA Tour players that their lack of resignation will not impact remaining PGA Tour players’ eligibility for tournaments.
Commissioner Monahan’s letter is carefully worded. While highlighting that LIV Golf participants did not receive proper releases, which is against PGA Tour tournament regulations, Commissioner Monahan stated, “they are suspended or otherwise no longer eligible to participate . . . .”
Per PGA Tour rules:
“[T]he Commissioner may deny any particular release request if he determines that such a release would cause PGA TOUR to be in violation of a contractual commitment to a tournament sponsor, or would otherwise significantly and unreasonably harm PGA TOUR and such sponsors.”
“Each PGA TOUR member, by participating in cosponsored, coordinated or approved golf tournaments, acknowledges the right and authority of the PGA TOUR Policy Board, the Commissioner and the Appeals Committee to (i) fine and suspend the member from tournament play, and/or (ii) fine and permanently bar the member from play in PGA TOUR cosponsored, approved or coordinated tournaments for violation of the Tournament Regulations.”
Thus, due to the LIV golf players’ failure to apply for a release or obtain a release, it appears that the PGA Tour is complying with its own rules, the PGA Tour’s actions are reasonable, and the PGA Tour is not applying its rules in a discriminatory manner, which would likely comply with the Sherman Antitrust Act.
On the other hand, Commissioner Monahan did not give a timeline for the players’ suspension. Depending on the length of the suspension and the PGA Tour’s actions if/when players reapply in the future, the PGA Tour could run into antitrust issues in the future. A year-long suspension could be a violation of antitrust laws (See Blalock v. Ladies Professional Golf Association, 359 F. Supp. 1260 (N.D. Ga. 1973)).
Additionally, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Lorain Journal Co. v. United States:
“It seems clear that if all the newspapers in a City, in order to monopolize the dissemination of news and advertising by eliminating a competing radio station, conspired to accept no advertisements from anyone who advertised over that station, they would violate §§ 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act.”
Therefore, until the duration and application of the suspensions are clear, antitrust issues may still come into play. Until then, the PGA Tour has acted, and LIV Golf players will not be able to return.