Whether it’s a gale, a bad break, or, say, an insurgent rival round attacking the standards of the professional landscape, golfers don’t particularly like things beyond their control. In an extremely individualistic sport, they don’t like disorder.
Perhaps that’s why, during last week’s Wyndham Championship, Davis Love III suggested that in the ongoing battle between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, it’s still the players on the traditional tour who have the most advantage. ‘influence. Why?
“(If) we don’t want these guys (LIV) to play, we don’t care what the courts say, our only option really, the nuclear option is to say, well, okay, if they have to play in our events, we just won’t play,” Love said.
Love is a statesman of sorts. He’s 58 with 21 career wins, multiple Ryder Cup captaincies and a current captaincy of the United States Presidents Cup team. He served on the PGA Tour Players Advisory Council. He was part of the circuit’s counterattack against Greg Norman’s fledgling World Golf Tour in 1994. Love’s voice carries weight.
So to hear Love speak openly about a strike or a boycott in professional golf was, well, just plain shocking. The 175 card-carrying PGA Tour members are not union members. They are independent contractors without collective bargaining. There has never been a work-related work stoppage in the history of the tour.
But, hey, if threatened, these players could indeed band together.
That’s exactly what happened when Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and eight other golfers suspended by the PGA Tour for joining LIV filed an antitrust lawsuit against the Tour. A direct threat. As Justin Thomas told No Laying Up in June of the then-awaited and now real lawsuit: “They’re suing me. They chase Rory. They pursue Tiger. They go after every one of us they’ve looked in the face with, looked into their eyes with, and played games of golf with, played on Cup teams, shared times with.
So, as a united front, PGA Tour players can fight back.
Before Wyndham, in a separate interview with AthleticismLove developed the idea.
“If 200 players say, ‘Okay, we’re not playing the majors and we’re not playing any PGA Tour events if these guys are allowed to play. We are on strike. This solves the problem. Then it’s over,” Love said. “Because it tells the FTC and the IRS and the sponsors and (PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan):”We support the PGA Tour rules and if you don’t follow the rules then we don’t play.
This, the theory goes, is what makes the boycott option potentially attractive. As a current PGA Tour pro said in a text message: “I don’t think the guys would actually do it, but that would be the end of it all. Sit down a Masters and it’s all over. Several players interviewed for this piece indicated the same, that if this were to happen, a strike serves as the ultimate checkmate.
Charley Hoffman, one of four current player directors on the PGA Tour Players’ Advisory Council, said: “I would be lying if I said there’s been a lot of talk about this, but I think, hypothetically, that it could happen.”
There is also the reality that a boycott or strike is implausible or, at the very least, misguided.
First, a work stoppage could further bolster the claim of the PGA Tour’s LIV golfers as a monopoly.
Second, it could serve as a stand-alone supplemental claim that itself constitutes a violation of antitrust laws.
As part of the Mickelson et al v. PGA Tour, the plaintiffs allege, among other things, that the tour’s behavior in trying to stifle LIV was “grossly exclusive, anti-competitive and illegal under the Sherman Act.” Nathaniel Grow, an associate professor of business law and ethics at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, points out that a collective boycott of a tournament could only bolster LIV golfers’ case under section 2 of the Sherman Act.
“The idea of a group boycott of something like the Masters or another tournament would be a potential data point that an illegal monopoly would maintain through illegal means,” Grow said.
Moreover, the mere act of speaking out loud about the possibility of a boycott could end up in the ongoing lawsuit.
“Love’s comments could potentially be used as further evidence that (the tour) is engaging in illegal behavior,” said Grow, who specializes in federal antitrust and labor law in American professional sports. “Just floating the possibility could theoretically do as much damage as a boycott itself.”
So that’s a part to consider.
With respect to the possibility that a boycott is a stand-alone violation of antitrust laws, any potential strike would be conducted by actors who would otherwise normally go about their business, and therefore could constitute anti-competitive behavior aimed at collectively accumulating influence. to deprive another party of economic opportunities.
Marc Edelman, professor of sports law and antitrust law at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, points to two cases in particular.
In Anderson v. Shipowners Ass’n of Pacific Coast, a 1926 Supreme Court case, it held that a shipowners’ association could not legally collectively boycott a prospective worker who had not obtained a permit from the defendant shipowners. association. The court said it is a violation of antitrust law for members of an industry to collectively restrict any individual member from participating in that industry.
“The Supreme Court’s decision in Anderson would be a fairly close parallel to what Davis Love III suggests, in that it would be the owners of an industry trying to exclude other owners from that industry,” Edelman said.
Another case worth noting is Radovich vs. the National Football League. In 1957, Bill Radovich claimed to have been the victim of a collective boycott of NFL teams intended to ruin the AAFC. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, where it was ruled that NFL teams were subject to antitrust laws and could not collectively boycott a player.
In the specific case of PGA Tour players potentially boycotting a tournament or tournaments in an attempt to protest players from a rival tour, Edelman says such an act could be considered “high red flag behavior under of the Sherman Act”.
So, on one legal basis alone, one might wonder whether a boycott is even feasible.
That said, no one can be certain that some sort of boycott would be illegal or harmful. There could be strong arguments on both sides. Perhaps PGA Tour players could frame a boycott around the idea of it is necessary for the survival of the association and find a court that accepts. As Grow puts it: “Until this is all chopped up and you kind of see the actual lay of the field – which tournament is (boycotted)? What burden does this create? – in the abstract, you can say it’s a potential problem, but until you get some hard facts, it’s hard to gauge how the court would be likely to rule.
But it would also be difficult to gauge just how universal support for a boycott might be.
Will Zalatoris, speaking to Athleticism, said his priority in professional golf was to win major tournaments. The implication was that he was unlikely to skip one to make a point. Regarding staging a strike if LIV players are allowed to play in a PGA Tour event, Zalatoris agreed there would be “massive outcry”, but shrugged it off and noted: “If you get 100 guys to sit down, you’re going to get another hundred who go (say), ‘Hey, I’m going to play!’ That’s how it would be.
So what about players on the tour trying to dictate which hand they play? Hard to say. In many ways, it seems out of their control. It could be up to a judge or a jury. It could be organized by those who decide whether LIV events receive Official World Golf Ranking points.
All we know is that the “nuclear option” might not be an option at all.
(Top photo of Cameron Young, left, and Davis Love III: Ben Jared/PGA Tour via Getty Images)