Several weeks ago, I turned on NBC’s Golf Channel to find PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan threatening professional golfers who would dare participate in the upstart LIV Golf Tour. Conceived by golfing icon Greg Norman and financed by the Saudi Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, LIV Golf made global headlines this summer when it hosted a major tournament at Donald Trump’s National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Monahan accused PGA Tour players who joined LIV Golf of accepting “blood money” and engaging in “sports washing,” among other vicious attacks on their morals and character. Monahan believes the new tour is an existential threat to the PGA Tour and affiliated tours, such as the DP World Tour.
Although I am an accomplished golfer, and I attend pro golf tournaments, I never paid attention to “golf politics” until just recently. But I know anticompetitive behavior when I see it. I was part of the trial team at the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice during the Reagan Administration that broke up the AT&T monopoly.
It seemed to me that Monahan’s threats to suspend, ban, and punish PGA Tour players who play in a LIV tournament, coupled with similar, obviously collusive threats by DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley, are alleged violations of U.S. antitrust laws. These alleged violations include group boycotts, market division, and other anticompetitive acts intended to kill the LIV tour in the crib, snuffing out a threat to the monopolistic professional golfing industry.
Keeping LIV players from competing as independent contractors on multiple tours would deprive fans of their paid-for benefit to watch their favorite pros in action at PGA Tour and DP World Tour events, as well as LIV Golf Tour events.
And that seemed to me a strong pretext and an impetus to file a consumer class action lawsuit against the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour, and their commissioners, Monahan and Pelley. So I did just that in Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the hubs of the golf world where many professional golfers live and practice.
My case has been largely ignored by the golf media. It hasn’t been mentioned on NBC’s Golf Channel, likely because the network has lucrative contracts to broadcast PGA and DP World Tour events. NBC’s Golf Channel has disparaged and defamed the rival LIV Tour and its players from the start.
Among the PGA’s anticompetitive allies and alleged co-conspirator against LIV is the Official Golf World Ranking (OWGR), which controls professional access to major tournaments through its opaque, contrived, and discriminatory point system. Who sits on OWGR’s board? PGA’s Monahan and DP’s Pelley, along with several other conflicted persons from rival venues out to squash competition from the LIV Tour.
Suffice to say, my case contends that OWGR is a front group to restrain trade and competition and thus attempts to deny LIV players their right to participate in major championships, such as the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, and other PGA events.
Consider Patrick Reed, who I am representing in a defamation case against commentator Brandel Chamblee and the Golf Channel. Reed is a bona fide champion, with nine PGA tournament victories, including the 2018 Masters Tournament. Now, it would appear his right to participate and compete in a major championship could be denied him—illegally—provoking yet more litigation.
The reality here is that the LIV Tour, if allowed to grow without anticompetitive meddling, does pose a big threat to the PGA and DP World tours because it offers a much better and more marketable product.
“LIV” is the Roman numeral for 54. True to its name, LIV Golf tournaments entail 54 holes of competition, not the monotonous 72 holes, six-hour rounds, and 12 hours per day of competition for players to endure and fans to watch. Typically in a PGA match, players will draw for starting times, which can ultimately decide a tournament’s outcome depending on a player’s time, given changing weather and other course conditions. A “good” or “bad” draw can affect a player’s game by an estimated three to five shots, up or down, in any given tournament.
Under LIV’s rules, every player starts at the same time from a different tee box on a different hole of the course, except for Sunday, when the final two groups tee off from the first tee. With LIV golfers playing the course at the same time, the match becomes fairer and more competitive, making it more likely that the best players will win. Logically, this system makes for a more compact and fan-friendly viewing experience, which is both fun and exciting. And since a LIV Tour event consists of three rounds of golf (versus four in a PGA or DP World Tour match), each individual round means more in terms of a player’s ultimate performance.
After all, the LIV Golf Tour was designed to make the fans’ experience more enjoyable and fun, bringing in a younger audience as well. A LIV Golf tournament is comprised of both individual and team competition, the latter making it more like a Ryder Cup event and fostering more camaraderie among the players as well as more fan interest.
LIV Golf is also more attractive in terms of providing better golfing venues for its players. With only 48 players per event, the chosen golf courses in the United States and around the world remain physically in superior condition, as they are less prone to wear and tear by hundreds of competing professionals in the typical PGA and DP World Tour event.
LIV Golf has already attracted top-tier pro golfers such as Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, and Phil Mickelson. Fact is, the Saudi Investment Fund pays well with guaranteed contract amounts and attendance stipends, and considerably larger purses at each tournament. Contrary to the PGA’s false narrative, LIV Golf Tour events are not simply “exhibitions.”
The differences—and benefits—should make LIV tournaments very attractive to a major television network, as coverage wouldn’t need to be so laborious and time-consuming.
For all of those reasons and more, Monahan, Pelley, and the pro golf monopoly are terrified of LIV Golf. It’s simply a more attractive and sellable product for both the tour professional and the average fan.
Which is why the golfing tour establishment and their yes-men in the sports media—particularly former third-rate pro golfer Brandel Chamblee on the Golf Channel—have gone out of their way to attack and defame LIV golfers. The objective seems to be to destroy the players, thereby destroying the engine driving LIV golf.
The press has a big problem with U.S. golfers being in the same orbit as Mohammed Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and ruler. Chamblee has accused LIV players of taking “blood money” and consorting with terrorists and murderers.
Nobody is ever going to confuse a Middle Eastern monarchy with a free republic such as the United States. But the press doesn’t seem interested in the fact that MBS loves and wants to promote golf—he is an accomplished golfer in his own right—and has built 14 courses in the kingdom. He is leading his nation into the 21st century by extending greater rights to women and minorities and building high-tech cities. And let’s not forget, Saudi Arabia remains a vital U.S. ally and a major supplier of oil.
As it happens, the Saudi Investment Fund has bought into several world-class U.S. companies, including Disney and Boeing. Why should we not encourage the prince to modernize further and reform the Saudi kingdom, rather than make him an enemy? Not only would the PGA and the rest of the professional golf establishment kill an upstart competitor, but they would also undermine U.S. international relations along the way.
Yes, despite all of this, I’m confident LIV Golf will succeed, not just because it has a superior product to sell to fans, sponsors, and networks, but because its leaders and players will stand firm and not turn a blind eye to the tyranny of Jay Monahan’s and Keith Pelley’s player- and fan-unfriendly, increasingly out-of-touch tours.
Let freedom ring.