Augusta National chair worked to deter players from LIV Golf, according to lawsuit
There was an assortment of notable disclosures inside the 105-page antitrust lawsuit Phil Mickelson, Bryson Dechambeau and nine LIV Golf players filed against the PGA Tour on Wednesday. Chief among them was that the PGA Tour had suspended Mickelson in March for, among other things, recruiting players to the breakaway Saudi-backed circuit. Additionally, DeChambeau apparently had already signed with LIV Golf but after the fallout from Mickelson’s incendiary comments regarding the Saudi regime behind the circuit in February, DeChambeau stated that he was committed to playing the PGA Tour. He then changed his mind once more and formally jumped to LIV in June.
Still another revelation from the suit was the possible role of Augusta National—and specifically the club’s chairman, Fred Ridley—in trying to persuade golfers not to join LIV. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed the following:
“Augusta National, the promoter of The Masters, has taken multiple actions to indicate its alignment with the PGA Tour, thus seeding doubt among top professional golfers whether they would be banned from future Masters Tournaments. As an initial matter, the links between the PGA Tour and Augusta National run deep. The actions by Augusta National indicate that the PGA Tour has used these channels to pressure Augusta National to do its bidding. For example, in February, 2022 Augusta National representatives threatened to disinvite players from The Masters if they joined LIV Golf.”
The complaint says that the PGA Tour urged Augusta National officials to attend a PGA Tour Advisory Council meeting in May, shortly after the formal launch of the LIV Golf Invitational Series. The suit says they did attend and “they informed the golfers in attendance that the PGA Tour and Augusta National had agreed to work together to address LIV Golf. As described above, the threat of exclusion from the Masters (and the other Majors) is a powerful weapon in the Tour’s arsenal to deter players from joining LIV Golf.”
The claim goes further with this reference to behind-the-scenes actions from Ridley: “In addition, Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley personally instructed a number of participants in the 2022 Masters not to play in the LIV Golf Invitational Series. Plainly, these threats to top players served no beneficial purpose, as they would only serve to weaken the field in the Masters.”
The suit says that Ridley declined a request from LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman to meet and formally discuss the launch of the series and its business model. He also, according to the claim, called Asian Tour CEO Cho Minn Thant along with R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers “to threaten consequences relating to the Asian Tour’s position in the current ‘ecosystem’ if the Asian Tour continued to support LIV Golf and its LIV Golf Invitational Series.”
The descriptions in the lawsuit are different from the public comments Ridley has made about LIV Golf. When asked publicly about the possibility of the launch of the Saudi-backed circuit during the Masters in April—the invitational series was not formally launched until late May—Ridley spoke rather neutrally about the venture.
“Our mission is to always act in the best interest of the game in whatever form that may take,” Ridley said in April. “I think that golf is in a good place right now. There’s more participation, the purses on the professional tours are the highest they’ve ever been. We’ve been pretty clear in our believe that the world tours have done a great job in promoting the game over the years. Beyond that, there’s so much that we don’t know about what might happen or what could happen, I can’t say much more beyond that.”
In contrast, leaders of the other three organizations that run the men’s majors have taken more aggressive stances publicly against LIV. The lawsuit claims that the majors have been working together along with the PGA Tour to undermine the LIV Golf series.
In May, PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh said that LIV Golf was “flawed” and repeated the notion that LIV golfers might not be eligible to play in the future in the PGA Championship or Ryder Cup. At the U.S. Open in June, USGA CEO Mike Whan stated that he was “struggling to see” how LIV Golf’s fight with the PGA Tour “is good for the game.”
“Could you envision a day where it would be harder for some folks doing different things to get into a U.S. Open? I could. Will that be true? I don't know, but I can definitely foresee that day."
And at the Open Championship last month at St. Andrews, Slumbers said that LIV Golf “was not in the best long-term interest of the sport as a whole.”