The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has stepped up to investigate the PGA Tour over alleged monopolistic behavior in the professional golf ecosystem. The PGA Tour suspended players as punishment for competing in recent tournaments with competitor league LIV Golf.
Lawsuits, either from suspended players, the DOJ, or both, are likely to ensue. Here’s what to know about the multifaceted controversy impacting the world of golf.
The PGA’s alleged anti-competitive behavior ostracizes LIV Golf players.
The PGA Tour has suspended players for competing in LIV Golf tournaments without the permission of PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan. As a result, the DOJ is digging into anti-competitive practices on behalf of the PGA, which has suspended 24 players who competed in LIV Golf tournaments.
LIV Golf is a brand-new PGA competitor. Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, backs LIV Golf. The LIV Golf Invitational Series first launched in early June and its entrance into the PGA-led atmosphere has contributed to a controversial time for the sport. LIV tournaments offer notoriously high payouts (as much as $20 million with a $120,000 minimum, plus bonuses thanks to a separate prize pool).
Meanwhile, PGA Tour remains staunch. It faced a similar investigation in 1994 when the FTC investigated the nonprofit organization for restricting players from participating in non-PGA events. At the time, it faced no fines or penalties, and the PGA believes the same will happen again.
The DOJ investigation could lead to lawsuits.
While the DOJ investigation has yet to evolve into lawsuit stature, such an outcome could occur. Perhaps more likely is the prospect that suspended players will file their own lawsuits. Monahan expects this, stating that the PGA’s policies will withstand any lawsuit that comes its way. Naturally, that isn't for Monahan to decide, though widespread suspensions for players competing in LIV Golf tournaments from other non-PGA organizations suggest the golf ball could potentially remain in the PGA’s court.
Is the PGA really monopolizing golf?
Speaking on behalf of the PGA, Seth Waugh, the CEO of the PGA Tour’s sister nonprofit PGA of America, stated, “We don't think [LIV Golf] is good for the game.” Waugh added at a later date, “We think the structure of — I don't know if it's a league, it's not a league at this point — but the league structure is somewhat flawed.”
A DOJ investigation and prospective lawsuits could decide a different fate. As for the investigation itself, LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman says he saw it coming. The LIV Golf presence has caused some players to disembark from the PGA ship (like Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson) while other players stay loyal to the PGA (Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy).
Ultimately, it will be the courts that decide whether or not the PGA Tour is creating a monopolistic environment, or whether LIV Golf is truly unwelcome in the American professional golf industry. It isn't just America that has a problem with LIV Golf — Europe’s DP World Tour, Scotland’s flagship golf tournament, and more have also suspended players for competing with LIV Golf.