Two days after ruling for the PGA Tour in a court hearing, Judge Beth Labson Freeman on Thursday issued a 14-page written order formally denying the motion for a restraining order that would have allowed golfers LIV Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones to compete in the FedEx Cup Qualifiers. The order makes it clear that the 11 golfers who sued last week face a difficult road to proving the Tour violated antitrust law. (One of those golfers, Carlos Ortiz, has since ditched the suit.)
Freeman’s order explains why the three golfers failed to convince her that they would suffer irreparable harm, that is, the kind of harm that money cannot later fix.
Although golfers cannot earn Official World Golf Ranking points by participating in LIV golf events, Freeman wrote to LIV golfers are not “Prohibited from playing professional golf against the best players in the world, winning lucrative prizes in some of golf’s most prestigious events, earning endorsements or building a reputation, brand and fan base in golf. elite.” In fact, Freeman pointed out, the golfers’ own expert witness bragged that LIV offered “large up-front payments” as a way for LIV to make up for “lost opportunity to earn ranking points.” [and] to gain entry into the Majors. From the judge’s point of view, the golfers “have not even demonstrated that they have been wronged, let alone irreparably”.
Freeman added that golfers knew that by joining LIV – a rival league – they were “virtually certain to be cut off from Tour play”. She cited cases involving professional tennis players and rodeo competitors where courts have refused to find irreparable harm where “a professional sports player is prohibited from playing in a professional sports league but is free to play professionally. in a separate league”. According to the judge, “the only thing” that LIV golfers are prohibited from is to “pursue [prizes, endorsement opportunities, fan followings etc.] at PGA Tour events. They can still earn these professional achievements by participating in LIV events.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Freeman distinguished the ability of an athlete to join one of two rival professional leagues, but not both, from an athlete being denied the opportunity to join the only major professional league. For example, consider a 19-year-old elite football player who could play in the NFL but is denied eligibility due to the league rule requiring players to have three years out of high school. This player can only advance his football development in college, where (apart from NUL opportunities) he will be denied a salary. An elite golfer is in a different boat, Freeman explained, because the golfer can play for the Tour or the LIV.
Freeman also suggested that the golfers’ overarching legal theory didn’t fit. She noted that plaintiffs argue that LIV is essentially superior to the Tour, making it difficult to simultaneously assert that the Tour enjoys monopoly control. Freeman noted how LIV Golfers describe their league as offering “a refreshing new ‘extremely fan-friendly’ venture that will lead to ‘an improved broadcast output and entertainment experience’ compared to the old world of built golf. by PGA TOUR.” She bluntly asked, “If LIV Golf is the future of elite golf, what do TRO plaintiffs care about trophies gathering dust from a bygone era?”
Although Freeman cautioned that her temporary injunction decision was based on the golfers failing to establish no irreparable harm, she offered additional information suggesting she had other doubts.
For example, the golfers allege that the Tour violated their Tour membership rights by extending their suspensions despite having appealed the first round of suspensions. Freeman, however, concluded that in “giving appropriate deference to the PGA Tour’s interpretation and application of its disciplinary rules”, the Tour’s enforcement of the rules was “not unreasonable”. She also noted that while the golfers’ antitrust claims present “complex issues” that “are best resolved on a more developed case,” she observed that the Tour “responded with preliminary evidence and arguments potentially exposing fundamental defects in the plaintiffs’ claims”.
The litigation could last several years, with many filings such as motions for preliminary injunction, dismissal and summary judgment. Freeman explained during the hearing that due to her heavy case, she is now scheduling trials for 2025. Also, antitrust cases tend to drag on for several years. They often raise complex questions that require empirical results and data studies. Consider that Ed O’Bannon and Shawne Alston’s antitrust cases against the NCAA lasted more than seven years. If that timeline follows here, much more will be known about whether the Saudi-backed LIV has what it takes to rival the Tour by the end of the case.