PGA Tour claims Liv Golf is willing 'to lose billions' to sportswash for 'deplorable' Saudi Arabia

·3 min read
PGA tour claims Liv Golf is willing 'to lose billions' to sportswash for 'deplorable' Saudi Arabia - GETTY IMAGES
PGA tour claims Liv Golf is willing 'to lose billions' to sportswash for 'deplorable' Saudi Arabia - GETTY IMAGES

The PGA Tour has told a court Liv Golf is "prepared to lose billions of dollars" for the sport by sportswashing for "deplorable" Saudi Arabia.

A blistering attack is outlined in legal papers urging a judge to throw out attempts by Liv players to overturn PGA suspensions. In a direct attack on the morality of the Saudi-funded breakaway, lawyers write in a motion: "Liv is not a rational economic actor, competing fairly to start a golf tour".

"It is prepared to lose billions of dollars to leverage plaintiffs and the sport of golf to 'sportswash' the Saudi government's deplorable reputation for human rights abuses," the legal paper adds.

The document asks a federal judge in California to deny a temporary restraining order to three suspended members, Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford.

The trio, who left to compete on the Liv Golf Invitational Series, will appeal to the court on Tuesday for a reprieve so they can participate in the FedEx Cup playoffs. However, the PGA argues that the players cannot "have their cake and eat it too" in its motion filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California.

The top 125 players in the FedEx Cup standings are eligible to compete in the FedEx St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind. Gooch is 20th in the standings, Jones is 65th and Swafford is 67th. But attorneys representing the Tour called the players' injunction request "legally baseless".

"Despite knowing full well that they would breach Tour Regulations and be suspended for doing so, Plaintiffs have joined competing golf league Liv Golf, which has paid them tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in guaranteed money supplied by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund to procure their breaches," the document says.

"[Temporary restraining order] Plaintiffs now run into Court seeking a mandatory injunction to force their way into the Tour's season-ending FedExCup Playoffs, an action that would harm all Tour members that follow the rules. The antitrust laws do not allow Plaintiffs to have their cake and eat it too."

'Substantial and irreparable punishment'

Liv chief executive Greg Norman, however, has reiterated his circuit's belief that players must be treated as free agents. "I believe players have the right to play when and where they choose so their talents can take them as far and high as possible," Norman said.

Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau and six other rebels also filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour last week. "The punishment that would accrue to these players from not being able to play in the FedEx Cup Playoffs is substantial and irreparable," the golfers' attorneys wrote.

The Californian court will weigh up the appeals as Liv Golf primes itself to announce that it is heeding the advice of the R&A and will take the circuit to eight countries in its first season as a league next year.

Like the PGA, Martin Slumbers, the R&A chief executive, has recently made no secret of his disdain for Norman’s enterprise, declaring at last month’s Open Championship that it was "harming the perception of golf" and making a thinly-veiled threat to make it more difficult for the rebels to qualify for the British major.

Liv is now ready to act on Slumbers’ guidance and play half of the £335 million, 48-man, 12-team league in the US, with the rest hosted in different countries.

This is believed to include venues in Australia, Spain, Mexico and Singapore, as well as England, Thailand and, naturally, Saudi Arabia, with the last three nations staging £20 million Liv events this year. Ireland is also being considered, as Norman seeks to present Liv as a genuinely global tour.