Last night, while I was asleep here in London, Judge Beth Labson Freeman was ruling in San Jose California in the first LIV Golf v PGA Tour restraining order case. And she was wondering whether this court case was all bad dream. This was a hastily arranged court date to decide whether LIV players Talor Gooch, Hudson Stafford and Matt Jones could be allowed to play in the FedEx Cup play offs starting this week.
Judge Freeman opened her summing up by asking if the events in the film Top Gun Maverick actually happened or if Tom Cruise’s character had died in the opening sequence and everything after the crash was really a dream?
This set the tone for, what I gather from social media, had been a very entertaining afternoon. Thank you to Rex Hoggard, Joel Beall, Kyle Porter, Rick Gehman, Ryan Ballengee, Sean Zak, Jason Sobel and Daniel Kaplan, who were awake to report what happened.
The judge ruled against the appeal of Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones to be allowed to play in the FedEx Cup Play offs beginning at the St Jude Classic on Thursday.
The main anti-trust court case brought by 11 LIV golfers against the PGA Tour now has a court date of August 7, 2023.
Hopefully this will give LIV time to find a lawyer who actually knows about golf or even geography. Because their lawyer in this case, Robert Walters, seemed unprepared for even discussing basic golf.
He made a number of weird mistakes, including during the recess leaving his mic on so everyone could hear some of his discussions with his team, mention of the broadcaster Brandel Chamblee.
Although representing golfers who had been paid by the Saudi Investment Fund he referred to the Saudi International tournament as being in Riyadh or Jeddah, not where it is actually played in the King Abdullah Economic City. He then placed the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Ohio.
As Kyle Porter from CBS observed he was explaining the complicated relationship between the majors, the Official World Golf Rankings and the FedEx Cup “like he learned about them 3 weeks ago”.
What raised most eyebrows was this. He said: “The FedEx Cup is the Super Bowl of golf”.
He talked about LIV having a 20% market share (though on the basis of fans actually in attendance that would be 0.2% of the market, and also, most of them had not paid to get in anyway).
The judge picked up on this “How can you project a 20% market share and yet call the PGA Tour a monopoly? It is not illegal to be a monopoly. The question is whether the monopoly power is being used against another organisation”
The LIV lawyer also said that the money won in tournaments is recouped against LIV contracts. This is not true. It is separate from the prize money.
Now, let’s take a breath.
I live in a country where it’s just been announced that our energy bills will reach nearly £4,500 a year in January. I find it absolutely insulting that the plaintiff’s attorney said this about Gooch, Swafford and Jones:
“these three poor kids”
Yeah right. Multi-millionaire kids.
The PGA Tour attorney Eliot Peters quite rightly jumped on this:
“They made a business decision to receive money. They have made more money in the last two months than they’ve ever made on the PGA Tour. LIV money is way bigger than FedEx Cup money”
The judge was then shown slides which set out the exact amounts of money which Gooch, Swafford and Jones signed for, which were not shown to the court. The judge nodded her head . “Remarkable” she said. “I’m trying to interpret in plain language your regulations and not how you would like them to work”.
She then, in giving judgment for the defendant PGA Tour, said that “LIV contracts are based on the calculation on what they were leaving behind. They lock up these players in a way the PGA Tour never imagined they are so restrictive”
And that is the crux of the matter. Having taken these huge sums of money from LIV each player is tied in to playing (next year) 14 LIV tournaments. They cannot cherry pick where they want to play because the PGA Tour also has a 15 tournament minimum commitment. They can’t just go in and out of the PGA Tour or DP World Tour and do smash and grab appearances to alleviate their boredom with the LIV product.
PGA Tour players can’t just pop up in LIV events as and when they please, just to alleviate their boredom with the PGA Tour product either. This is because LIV is a closed shop. It is by invitation only. This court case highlighted for me how the PGA tour was right to ban the LIV players from their events. Their committed players can’t go in and out of the LIV tour so why should LIV golfers be able to do the same?
The court case also got blown off course by bringing up Masters Chairman Fred Ridley. It is up to each major championship to decide whether or not to allow LIV golfers into their fields. It looks as though, for now, they will be allowed to play in the four majors. But that will be the only alleviation of what will inevitably be their boredom with the LIV product and the lack of buy in from golf fans. From where it stands now it looks to me like a massive, very expensive, white elephant.
But as for representing their countries in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cups? Some very strong words from American Presidents Cup Captain Davis Love III last week, who even talked about PGA Tour players walking out and refusing to play in events where LIV golfers were. Wow. This really sounds like a civil war.
So, first blooding to the PGA Tour in this court case. The main event will take place in August next year. It will take a crystal ball to work out what will happen with that. But I did spot that one of the best psychic mediums in the world answered that question on YouTube on Sunday. Stay tuned for what he had to say.