The battle between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf now involves the federal government.
A new Wall Street Journal report indicates that the Department of Justice is looking into the PGA Tour's battle to keep its players from jumping to the upstart LIV tour. The Justice Department's antitrust division is apparently seeking to determine whether the Tour engaged in anticompetitive behavior in order to block players from moving to the Saudi Arabia-backed LIV tour.
"This was not unexpected," the PGA Tour told Yahoo Sports in a statement. "We went through this in 1994 and we are confident in a similar outcome." The Federal Trade Commission had investigated the Tour in 1994 regarding player releases to play in competing events and on television, but dropped that probe in 1995.
The LIV tour has lured numerous notable players, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, with the promise of huge contracts and guaranteed paydays at every tournament.
The PGA Tour responded to LIV's threat by first denying its players an exemption to play in the inaugural LIV event in London, and later suspending outright all players who competed on the LIV tour for an indefinite period of time. Many of those players have resigned from the PGA Tour entirely, but others, including Mickelson, retain PGA Tour membership.
LIV Golf chairman Greg Norman has fired back at the PGA Tour, calling it an "illegal monopoly" as well as "anti-golfer, anti-fan, and anti-competitive." Norman pledged to help fund the legal battles of players who want to fight the PGA Tour in court, which is where this fight appears headed.
The scope of the Justice Department inquiry, whose existence a PGA Tour representative confirmed to the WSJ, are not yet public. However, the federal government could be considering whether the Tour has the power to restrict the movement of the so-called "independent contractors" who make up its members. PGA Tour members must seek release from the Tour to play in events that occur during the same time as Tour events, and the Tour does not grant exemptions for any events in North America. Five of the initial eight events on the LIV schedule are in the United States. The next LIV event is scheduled for July 29-31 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Contact Jay Busbee at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.