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Mickelson vs. PGA Tour

Phil Mickelson drops out of LIV Golf-backed lawsuit against PGA Tour

September 27, 2022
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Ross Parker - SNS Group

Phil Mickelson has dropped out of the lawsuit that bears his name.

The six-time major winner filed a voluntary dismissal in his claim against the PGA Tour on Tuesday in U.S. District Court. Also departing the case with Mickelson are Ian Poulter, Hudson Swafford and Talor Gooch. Of the 11 players that initially were part of the lawsuit filed in August, only three remain: Matt Jones, Peter Uihlein and Bryson DeChambeau.

Mickelson’s decision is not necessarily a surprise, as the 52-year-old telegraphed the possible move during the last LIV Golf event held outside Chicago.

"I haven't done anything yet, but now that LIV is involved, it's not necessary for me to be a part of it," Mickelson said at Rich Harvest Farms earlier this month. "I currently still am [part of the lawsuit]. I don't know what I'm really going to do. The only reason for me to stay in it is damages, which, I don't really want or need anything."

Mickelson is referring to the Saudi-backed circuit joining as an interested party in the case in late August. The organization is claiming it has had to start its league in the face of reduced access to players with super-competitive costs. LIV Golf wants “punitive damages for the PGA Tour’s bad faith and egregious interference with LIV Golf’s contractual and perspective business relationships.”

In a 105-page complaint filed in early August, LIV Golf players challenged their suspensions by the tour for defecting to the Saudi-backed circuit. The tour is adamant it has the legal authority to issue disciplinary measures. Three of those in the lawsuit—Gooch, Swafford and Jones—attempted to receive a temporary restraining order that would have allowed them to play the FedEx Cup Playoffs; however a U.S. District Court denied the TRO motion, siding with the tour.

The filing of the original antitrust claim revealed that Mickelson received disciplinary action from the PGA Tour for, among other things, attempting to recruit members to the Saudi-backed circuit. In the fallout of his controversial comments about Saudi Arabia and leveraging the tour, Mickelson said he was taking a personal leave of absence from the game during this time.

“On March 22, 2022, the Commissioner suspended Plaintiff Mickelson (with the opportunity to apply for reinstatement in May of 2022) for, among other alleged reasons, 'attempting to recruit players to join [LIV Golf],'” reads the complaint. “Following an appeal, the appeals committee (a three-person committee comprised of members of the Tour Policy Board) affirmed the Commissioner’s two-month suspension. On June 20, 2022, Mr. Mickelson applied for reinstatement from the two-month suspension. The Tour denied his request, stating that Plaintiff Mickelson violated Tour regulations by participating in the LIV Golf London Invitational. In addition to denying his request for reinstatement, the Tour extended Plaintiff Mickelson’s suspension, forbidding him from seeking reinstatement to play professional golf with the Tour until March 31, 2023.” The complaint says that the tour then extended the suspension for Mickelson’s participation in the LIV Golf Portland event, "deferring even the mere opportunity to apply for reinstatement until after March 31, 2024.”

Despite Mickelson’s voluntary dismal he remains a potential witness in the lawsuit. “If he has information that sheds light on (or tends to prove or disprove) on either the claims of LIV, or the defenses of the PGA Tour, then he could be asked questions about that knowledge,” said Tom Allen, who practices in government services, litigation, and labor and employment areas.

A tentative date for summary judgment in the antitrust case is set for July 23, 2023, where the tour will likely seek to dismiss the case. The trial date expected to begin on Jan. 8, 2024.