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Golfers who defected to Saudi-funded tour file antitrust suit against PGA Tour

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The simmering feud in professional golf has landed in court. Eleven players from the controversial new Saudi-backed LIV golf series filed an antitrust lawsuit yesterday against the PGA Tour. The players, including six-time major champion Phil Mickelson, say the PGA is acting like a monopoly and harming their careers by suspending them. Joining us now is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, you've been covering the LIV versus the PGA Tour battle right since it started. There's been talk throughout about legal action, and now it's happened. What more can you tell us about this lawsuit?

TOM GOLDMAN, HOST:

It is filled, A, with strong language, calling the PGA Tour a monopoly that's crafted, quote, "an arsenal of anti-competitive restraints," harming the careers and livelihoods of LIV golfers. The biggest restraints the suit maintains, and as you mentioned, are the suspensions the PGA Tour handed down when PGA golfers started playing in the LIV series. To date, there have been 16 of those suspensions. Also in the lawsuit, a request for a temporary restraining order to allow three of the plaintiffs to play in the PGA Tour's upcoming and very lucrative FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin next week. The suit is asking for a stay of suspensions and a ban on future ones.

MARTINEZ: And what does the PGA tour say?

GOLDMAN: Well, strong words as well by the tour. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan says the lawsuit is the latest attempt to disrupt the PGA Tour. And he says those who filed the suit are trying to use lawyers to force their way into competition alongside, quote, "our members in good standing." Now, notably, Monahan doesn't refer to the LIV series in his statement, but repeatedly calls it the Saudi Golf League and the players Saudi Golf League employees. He knows the Saudi backing is a red flag for critics and PGA Tour loyalists. And he appears to be playing up that Saudi connection.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. So that sounds like we're a ways away, if at all, from a truce.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. It sure does. That's a good point. There's been talk during this several-month-long saga that, ultimately, the PGA Tour and LIV will have to work things out, come to some compromises that allow for coexistence. That may still happen. But right now, with the angry words in the lawsuit and the PGA Tour standing firm, it sure doesn't seem like reconciliation is near.

MARTINEZ: And this past weekend, I know LIV had its third event with an extra slab of controversy since it was at Donald Trump's golf course in New Jersey. And the former president was very present at the tournament. How's the new venture doing, I mean, still as controversial?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, certainly this weekend. There was a large showing of 9/11 family members, with Trump's Bedminster Club so close to Ground Zero. They criticized the players and Trump for doing business with Saudi Arabia. Both Trump and the players, as they've done all along, dodged their way around questions about the Saudi government's involvement in 9/11, about ongoing human rights abuses. And the party went on. As a golf event, it's not drawing huge crowds. But they're enthusiastic. Fans are talking about the lack of stuffiness compared to PGA Tour events.

But hardcore golf fans still can't get around the fact that this feels like an exhibition, with all the players getting guaranteed money, rather than a real competitive event. Phil Mickelson, the most famous LIV golfer, who was paid a reported 200 million to join LIV, he has struggled. He hasn't scored well. His relationship with golf reporters has soured. On the other hand, it was revealed this week golf's most famous player period, Tiger Woods, was offered between 700 million and 800 million to join LIV. He said no. And along with his strong recent comments against LIV, it seems to be polishing his reputation even more with many loyalist golf fans.

MARTINEZ: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is so good at golf, he has no handicap. Tom, thanks.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF STS9'S "TOKYO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.