Don’t bury the proposed new Saudi-backed golf league just yet.
Just hours after PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan reiterated to players the promise of a ban from the tour should they sign with the Greg Norman-run group, a letter from Norman to potential players and their agents written last week was made available to media members including an itemized list of potential legal challenges LIV Golf Investments will use to challenge Monahan’s declaration.
It suggested that despite the negative impact of Phil Mickelson’s critical comments and the public commitment by multiple top players, including targets Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, the new league isn’t surrendering.
“Simply put, your players enjoy the freedom under law to choose how they make a living. In our view and in the eyes of the law, the PGA Tour’s threats are utterly impermissible under competition and other laws.”
The letter from Greg Norman read, in part:
“In response to the PGA Tour’s threats against players of lifetime bans, which the PGA Tour issued during this week’s Genesis Invitational, please find attached our detailed response, which expands on our past discussions. Simply put, your players enjoy the freedom under law to choose how they make a living. In our view and in the eyes of the law, the PGA Tour’s threats are utterly impermissible under competition and other laws.
“As you know, at LIV Golf Investments we have made every effort (1) to present a collaborative outlook and communicate our intent with existing professional sanctioning bodies, and (2) to share how our vision and operation will enhance the game at every level and add momentum to golf’s worldwide standing as a leading supporter of charitable causes. It is the PGA Tour’s choice—and not ours—to refuse to entertain constructive dialogue for the betterment of the game and stakeholders across all sectors, particularly players.
“We will continue our efforts to respectfully co-exist. However, we will not stay silent in the face of unjust and punitive threats that seek to prevent your clients from pursuing their rightful career opportunities and LIV Golf’s right to compete. Competition is what makes us better and more successful, and your clients are entitled to the benefits of healthy and fair competition for their services. We will not permit the Tour—as the long-standing monopolist over professional golf—to stifle free and fair competition to the detriment of professional golfers and the game itself. For the good of your clients and the great game of golf, we hope you will not as well. Your players should not be encumbered by these outrageous threats.”
On Tuesday afternoon at the Honda Classic, Monahan spoke to players and addressed the subject of the new league. According to comments from players in the meeting, Monahan made it clear the PGA Tour was serious about banning players.
“I told the players we’re moving and anyone on the fence needs to make that decision,” Monahan told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
The commissioner added that he did not think the threat of the new league was over, despite Rory McIlroy suggesting on Sunday that it was “dead in the water.”
“There is zero complacency here,” Monahan told the AP. “We will continue to talk to the players and continue to listen.”
Brooks Koepka said Wednesday he doesn’t believe the proposed new league will surrender.
“I think it’s going to still keep going,” Koepka, who has committed to playing the PGA Tour, said at the Honda Classic. “I think there will still be talk. Everybody talks about money. They’ve got enough of it. They’ll get their guys. Somebody will sell out and go to it.”
In Norman’s letter, he suggested agents and players should get the PGA Tour’s threat to ban them in writing while expressing doubts the tour would provide such documentation.
“Finally, you should know that LIV Golf Investments is on the side of the players. None of us should stand for these egregious acts of bullying by the PGA Tour. We look forward to supplying you with any further information or guidance you might desire,” Norman wrote.
Attached to Norman’s letter was a document with seven bullet points detailing how and why the PGA Tour cannot ban its players if they join the new league.
The seven items are:
- The PGA Tour would violate the antitrust laws were it to ban players. The document cited a Supreme Court decision (Lorain Journal Co. v. U.S. in 1951) regarding monopolies while also pointing to other sports organizations that were pressured to end blacklisting practices.
- Antitrust law violations carry severe consequences for the PGA Tour. This includes a suggestion the federal government will investigate the PGA Tour should it ban players.
- Permanently banning golfers will diminish the PGA Tour’s product. The tour, the document says, would be hurting its own product by banning top players.
- The PGA Tour would violate its non-profit purpose were it to ban players. The tour is a 501c6 organization and could lose that designation by prohibiting players from playing.
- The PGA Tour would violate its own regulations were it to ban players. The suggestion is Monahan would be stretching the concept of “conduct unbecoming a professional golfer” to use it in this circumstance.
- The PGA Tour will likely crumble under public pressure supporting players. This is basically an appeal for the public to fight the proposed bans.
- The PGA Tour would damage its relationship with its members to permanently ban golfers. If the tour prevents players from playing where they choose, it will undermine the tour’s relationship with its most valuable commodity.
The PGA Tour has stated its players agree to the rules of membership when they join the tour, which include requiring permission to play outside events. Golfers can play the PGA Tour on exemptions (up to 12 including the four majors and the Players Championship) without membership but would not participate in the lucrative pension program, the FedEx Cup points race, other programs or have benefits.
At noon Thursday, Norman sent this letter to Monahan:
Dear Commissioner Monahan:
Surely you jest. And surely, your lawyers at the PGA Tour must be holding their breath.
As has been widely reported, you have threatened the players on the PGA Tour, all of whom are independent contractors, with lifetime bans if they decide to play golf in a league sponsored by anyone other than the Tour.
For decades, I have fought for the rights of players to enjoy a career in which they are rewarded fully and properly for their efforts. They are one-in-a-million athletes. Yet for decades, the Tour has put its own financial ambitions ahead of the players, and every player on the tour knows it. The Tour is the Players Tour not your administration’s Tour. Why do you call the crown jewel in all tournaments outside the Majors “The Players Championship” and not “The Administration’s Championship?”
But when you try to bluff and intimidate players by bullying and threatening them, you are guilty of going too far, being unfair, and you likely are in violation of the law.
Simply put, you can’t ban players from playing golf. Players have the right and the freedom to play where we like. I know for a fact that many PGA players were and still are interested in playing for a new league, in addition to playing for the Tour. What is wrong with that?
What is wrong with allowing players to make their own decisions about where to play and how often to play? What is so wrong with player choice? Why do you feel so threatened that you would resort to such a desperate, unwise, and unenforceable threat?
I noticed a recent article by the former chief lawyer to the Federal Trade Commission that stated:
“Let’s be clear: A lifetime ban is never going to happen. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan is no doubt being advised by high-priced lawyers who – if they are worth even a fraction of their lofty rates – have surely advised him of the legal consequences that will blow up in the PGA Tour’s face if it imposes lifetime bans on independent contractors who choose to associate with a competitor.
Most notably, imposing a lifetime ban on players would trigger a slam-dunk antitrust lawsuit by Norman’s upstart league, the players, or even federal antitrust enforcers who have made it a priority to protect workers’ ability to ply their trade for whomever they please without interference from corporate giants.”
Competition in all aspects of life, sport, and business is healthy and the players deserve to be well compensated, which is why so many players have expressed an interest in playing in a new league. But when you threaten to end players’ careers and when you engage in unfair labor practices with your web of player restrictions, you demonstrate exactly why players are open minded about joining a league that treats players well, respects them, and compensates them according to their true worth.
Commissioner – this is just the beginning. It certainly is not the end.
Sincerely, Greg Norman
Top: Greg Norman photo: Luke Walker, WME IMG via Getty Images; Jay Monahan photo: Richard Heathcoat, Getty Images
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