Judge: 3 players who joined Saudi-backed golf tour can’t make PGA playoffs

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — A federal judge in California has ruled that three golfers who joined Saudi-backed LIV Golf will be ineligible for the PGA Tour playoffs.

Judge Beth Labson Freeman delivered her decision Tuesday afternoon in San Jose after the parties’ attorneys each spoke for about an hour. Freeman said she does not consider the golfers suffered irreparable harm because of the large amount of money guaranteed to them by joining LIV, a key issue in the case.

“There is simply no irreparable harm in this case,” said PGA Tour attorney Elliot Peters.

The three suspended golfers were asking for a temporary restraining order, which Freeman denied. Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford have claimed they should be able to play wherever they want, each saying in letters last month to the PGA, “I am a free agent and an independent contractor.” They are among 10 players who filed an antitrust complaint against the PGA Tour last week, including Phil Mickelson.

Robert Walters, an antitrust litigator representing golfers, noted that it was their opportunity on a big playoff stage, “effectively the Super Bowl of golf” because of its “significant earning opportunities.” Freeman replied that the earning potential of the LIV Tour was also significant and asked if players could have waited until the end of the PGA Tour season to leave for the new tour.

Walters argued that there were only 48 spots and that they would have been filled according to LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, to which Freeman said she agreed with that position, but that golfers would earn far more financially by joining LIV than the money they could have earned on the PGA Tour.

“It’s a hugely attractive financial opportunity, but it’s so much more than that,” Walters said, saying the harm is that “players lose intangible benefits” such as qualifying for major tournaments as well as games. other renowned invitations.

“It’s the holy grail because everyone wants to compete and win in the majors, but it’s not just the majors,” Walters said. He noted that the PGA Tour inferred that these golfers would put a “stain” or “stink” on the Tour’s image while playing.

The first of three FedEx Cup playoff events begins Thursday as players compete for the $18 million top prize — hence the urgency for Freeman to reign. That case could go to trial next year, with the possibility of an injunction hearing in late September or early October, according to Peters.

Peters said lifting golfers’ suspensions and allowing them to play would “change the status quo” for the PGA Tour and “give them a fabulous platform” to promote the LIV tour while attending a PGA event.

“I think it’s a huge problem,” he said. “… The commissioner must have the ability to protect the tour. It’s a very difficult situation for the Tour.

Gooch (#20), Jones (#65) and Swafford (#67) are among nine players to join LIV Golf and finish the regular season in the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings. The other six who have joined LIV Golf are not asking to play in the tour playoffs.

AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.

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