By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
The PGA Tour has filed a counterclaim against Saudi-funded LIV Golf accusing the rival league of inducing top players to breach PGA Tour contracts by claiming the tour could not enforce them.
The counterclaim was included in the PGA Tour’s response to the amended antitrust lawsuit filed in federal court in northern California, which included LIV Golf as a plaintiff.
Since then, eight of the 11 players who sued the PGA Tour, including Phil Mickelson, have asked to be removed from the lawsuit. Mickelson said his involvement was no longer necessary with LIV Golf now suing the tour.
In the response to the lawsuit filed late Wednesday, the PGA Tour claims LIV Golf is asking the court to invalidate its regulations “with the stroke of a pen” after inducing players with hundreds of millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
The tour said the three players who are still part of the antitrust lawsuit — Talor Gooch, Peter Uihlein and Matt Jones — “want to enrich themselves in complete disregard of the promises they made to the tour” when they joined the PGA Tour.
“This case is not about unfair competition — if anyone is competing unfairly, it is LIV, not the tour. Instead, it is a cynical effort to avoid competition and to freeride off of the tour’s investment in the development of professional golf,” the response said.
The counterclaim alleges “tortious interference with contract.”
Among other things, the tour claims LIV Golf paid signing fees — some reported to be in the $150 million range — and made false representations to players to break agreements they had with the tour.
The tour asked for a jury trial on the counterclaim and seeks damages for any lost profits, reputational and brand harm, punitive damages and attorney fees.
LIV Golf has claimed in its lawsuit the PGA Tour has used monopoly power to try to squash competition and has unfairly suspended players.
Greg Norman, the CEO of LIV Golf, has said players should be able to be free agents who can compete anywhere. The PGA Tour has policies that keep members from playing the same week as a PGA Tour event without a release.
In its response, the PGA Tour said LIV Golf’s own business plan “demonstrates this is fiction.” The tour pointed to LIV Golf contracts that require them to play in all LIV Golf events and other agreements it claims are more restrictive than the tour’s policies.
“LIV’s statements regarding golfer freedom are a thinly veiled public relations ploy concocted to disparage the tour and deflect criticism of LIV’s own restrictive business model,” the counterclaim says.
Players who signed with LIV Golf were suspended for not having a release. The tour’s policy indicates no releases are given for competing tournaments in North America, and LIV Golf already has staged four events in the United States.
Gooch, Jones and Hudson Swafford — who no longer is part of the lawsuit — sought a temporary restraining order in August that would have allowed them to play in the PGA Tour’s lucrative postseason. A federal judge denied the request.
Summary judgment in the antitrust lawsuit is tentatively scheduled for July 23, 2023, when the tour is expected to ask for the case to be dismissed.
A trial date is set for January 2024.
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