PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf

PGA Tour alleges Phil Mickelson, others have failed to produce core responsive documents in LIV Golf antitrust suit; tour seeks discovery extension

February 06, 2023

Ross Kinnaird

Attorneys representing the PGA Tour in its lawsuit against LIV Golf are seeking a new, later trial date along with an extension to the document discovery process.

The tour’s request, filed Sunday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, cites the additions of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and its governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan as defendants in the tour’s tortious interference counterclaim—and the tour’s accusations that PIF and Al-Rumayyan have gone to “extraordinary steps to avoid producing a single document or providing sworn testimony”—as the reasons for asking for an extension.

“The tour cannot—and should not be forced to—defend against the antitrust claims without receiving any discovery from the people who created LIV in the first place, and who continue to exercise control over every facet of LIV’s business operations,” the request reads. “By ignoring the reality that discovery from LIV’s owners and decision-makers is essential to resolving the antitrust claims, Plaintiffs confirm the unworkability of the current schedule.”

Document discovery is supposed to be completed by the end of March, but the tour is requesting a six-month extension. A tentative date for summary judgment in the antitrust case is set for July 23, where the tour will likely seek to dismiss the case. The trial date is expected to begin on Jan. 8, 2024, but in requesting an extension of the discovery deadline, the tour is also seeking to push back this date as well.

Late last month, the tour sought to add PIF and Al-Rumayyan to the suit, with the motion arguing that LIV is the end result of a “long-contrived plan” to take over professional golf as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which Golf Digest has detailed here. The PIF is the primary backer of LIV, and documents the PGA Tour obtained in discovery in December allege that PIF and Al-Rumayyan were “instrumental in inducing players to breach their tour contracts.” The tour argues Al-Rumayyan personally recruited players, “played an active role in contract negotiations, and expressly approved each of the player contracts—all while knowing that these deals would interfere with the players’ tour contracts.”

Al-Rumayyan, who is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s inner circle, is considered the mastermind of the Golf Saudi and LIV Golf projects. Though Greg Norman has been the public-facing leader of LIV Golf, sources familiar with LIV tell Golf Digest Al-Rumayyan and Majed Al Sorour were the two people who had final say over LIV Golf/Golf Saudi matters. Last month Al Sorour was transitioned out of managing director of LIV Golf.

The tour also alleges that some of the LIV Golf members who were formerly a part of the antitrust lawsuit against the tour have not fully complied with document requests. One of the players singled out is Phil Mickelson.

“Mickelson is the former lead plaintiff in this action, and he accepted service of a subpoena for documents in October. Yet, to date, Mr. Mickelson has produced fewer than 600 documents, some of which are materials the tour sent to Mr. Mickelson, copies of the complaint and discovery requests, and junk files with no content,” the request reads. “Text messages Mr. Mickelson has produced were initially missing important metadata. More importantly, Mr. Mickelson has failed to produce core responsive documents, such as those detailing his contract negotiations with LIV, communications with his agent, communications with the media regarding interviews in which he discussed his decision to leave the tour, and communications with his then sponsors following his decision to join LIV. These materials should have been produced long ago.”

Abraham Ancer, Jason Kokrak, Pat Perez and Carlos Ortiz are listed as well, with the tour alleging LIV’s lawyers have refused to provide a date certain for completion of document productions.

For its part, LIV Golf has responded that the tour’s extension request is nothing more than an attempt to “drive LIV out of the market."

“Its strategy was transparent from the start: put up every conceivable roadblock to timely resolution; pursue discovery that knows no bounds; and seek any means possible to postpone facing trial on Plaintiffs’ claim,” LIV’s attorneys counter. “All the while, the tour continues to harm both LIV and the Player Plaintiffs. The tour has made clear that its conduct will not abate until it is enjoined. Indeed, the Tour recently passed a new and even more onerous regulation intended to prevent any golfer anywhere—including tour members and non-members alike—from playing in LIV Golf events.”

LIV Golf is scheduled to launch its second season later this month.