Most people with a rudimentary knowledge of business and the Sherman Act and the Clayton Act would see the Phil Mickelson lawsuit as nothing but sour grapes, whining, name-calling, and a guy who has not read the PGA Tour Handbook which contains the rules and regulations of a tour that he willingly joined and willingly reaped benefits from since he graduated from college.
Whether the Federal District Court judges see that way is about to be discovered.
There are two suits. One is players suing for the right to play in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. The other is an anti-trust complaint against the PGA Tour. Mickelson’s name is the top one on the list.
No one knows how this will turn out because anti-trust law is not cut and dried.
The 9th circuit, which encompasses seven states in the western US, is where the briefs were filed. The 9th circuit is notoriously liberal, but does it go as far as saying OK to a bunch of rich guys who are mad because they aren’t richer? Who say they don’t want to play more golf, but are now suing to be able to play the Tour they left?
Once again, it’s suspiciously about the money, whether it’s that their sponsors are leaving them because there’s no PGA Tour affiliation or that they want part of the lucrative last three events of the year, or that they want to play both tours.
If it’s the latter, that begs the question, why did they say they wanted LIV because it lets them pay less golf? Now they want more golf? Billy Horschel asked that exact question on Golf Central on Golf Channel.
At any rate, Federal District judges are known to be fairly humorless with cases that they see as a waste of their time, and no one knows just how they will see these two.
They will take the anti-trust complaint seriously because anti-trust is a serious matter. Usually, it relates to a situation where less competition results in harm to the public. It is hard to see where the PGA Tour harms the public.
In this instance, the decision might be affected by the state of mind of a few people in California. Mainly the judges.
To explain the mental climate toward golf in northern California, recently there were efforts to turn all public courses in the state into low-priced housing. (That failed, thankfully.) So, the appearance of 11 rich golfers suing because they aren’t rich enough and they want more may not be looked upon with kind eyes.
Nobody tied their arms behind their backs and made them sign with LIV. It was a choice willingly made.
Gabe Feldman, Director of the Tulane Sports Law program, appearing on Golf Channel’s Golf Central suggested that in most anti-trust cases, the situation is that one entity is driven out of business by another.
However, in this case, the LIV Tour already has had several tournaments including two recent ones in the US, which could weaken their case.
“It makes it harder to show that they were harmed,” Feldman said about LIV’s chances.
Hence the whining in the complaint. ( It’s called a complaint for a reason!)
However, he followed that by saying, that LIV could counter by saying they were harmed by the fact that they had to pay so much for players.
Realistically, they paid that much because otherwise the players wouldn’t leave the lucrative life of the PGA Tour. In Mickelson’s case, his career on the PGA Tour was virtually over. He had nothing to lose and little interest in PGA Tour Champions. He parlayed his record into $200 million.
A normal person would say that’s a pretty good payday that he would not have had without playing the PGA Tour. One way or the other, Feldman said it could take years for the anti-trust trial to play out.
Meanwhile, the temporary injunction requested to allow LIV players back into the FedEx Cup Playoffs might be solved rather quickly.
If they rule in favor of the players on the Playoffs, they would not be harming the players involved. However, if the court decides that way, they would be harming the players who have followed the rules and regulations. Tough call there.
Phil Mickelson also complained about a so-called “lifetime ban’, but that was never announced as fact. It was written about in news stories, but the PGA Tour never announced a lifetime ban, even though the Tour reserves the right to do it.
What the most recently available PGA Tour handbook says on the topic is:
“Each PGA Tour member, by participating in co-sponsored, coordinated or approved golf tournaments, acknowledges the right and authority of the PGA TOUR Policy Board, the Commissioner and the Appeals Committee to (i) fine and suspend the member from tournament play, and/ or (ii) fine and permanently bar the member from play in PGA TOUR cosponsored, approved or coordinated tournaments for violation of the Tournament Regulations.” (Page 135 of the Handbook.)
These are not new rules. These are from the 2019-2020 version of the handbook, nearly three years old.
Those are the rules that PGA Tour players themselves have written into the regulations to provide a means of discipline for fellow members.
That’s because there is no single owner of the PGA Tour. The members own it. If you are a member, then these are your rules. If a player doesn’t like the rules, he can work to try to change them, but nobody is making any player sign up for the PGA Tour.
It’s generally considered an honor. Golfers are lined up all over the globe trying to have a chance to play on the PGA Tour.
If Phil Mickelson actually has documentation from the PGA Tour that says he is banned for a lifetime, no one has seen it. You can bet that Greg Norman would have waved that piece of paper or electronic communication in front of any TV camera he could find. He would have Tweeted it and Re-Tweeted it. He would have shouted it from rooftops to anybody who would listen.
What the PGA Tour did do was suspend players after they actually teed it up in a LIV event, even though they could do more.
In Mickelson’s case, according to a Golf Digest story, he was suspended for trying to undermine the PGA Tour by recruiting players for another golf league. It’s an understandable reason if you are the PGA Tour.
Phil Mickelson was trying to create a competing product from within the walls of the PGA Tour.
Some might call it piracy or akin to intellectual property theft.
The other players were suspended for playing in a conflicting tournament without obtaining a release.
Look, Phil Mickelson could have resigned his membership from the PGA Tour and gone around the world seeking the highest bidder to have him play in other events. Basically, he did that, but did not resign. He forced the PGA Tour to act against him.
Mickelson could have belonged to no tour. But he didn’t do that either. He wanted to become a Saudi government employee and then have his membership on the PGA Tour and go sell himself to other tournaments in other locations to the detriment of the PGA Tour.
Now, here’s the icing on the cake. Phil Mickelson wants a jury trial. Maybe this is a ploy to get himself on television since LIV can’t draw flies when it comes to viewers. At one point in Saturday’s round, there were 35,000 total watching. That is not a rabid endorsement of the LIV product.
So get your popcorn ready. If this trial is televised, it won’t be over matters as serious as the case against O.J. Simpson, but it will be worth a few bags of popcorn. The only question is will there be Dancing Itos?