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PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf

LIV Golf dealt another legal blow as judge rules PGA Tour can add Saudi Arabia's PIF to countersuit

February 22, 2023
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Charlie Crowhurst/LIV Golf

LIV Golf was dealt another blow in the ongoing litigation battle between the Saudi-backed circuit and the PGA Tour, as a U.S. District Court judge ruled on Tuesday that the tour can add Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, as defendants in the tour’s countersuit.

Attorneys for LIV Golf had argued adding the PIF, the financial backer of LIV, would cause a delay to the case that would potentially harm LIV Golf players who had been suspended by the tour. However, Judge Beth Labson Freeman wrote that LIV failed to identify how exactly those players were being harmed.

"LIV argues instead that granting leave to amend would harm both the Player Plaintiffs and LIV by potentially delaying resolution of the case," Freeman wrote. "According to LIV, this potential delay could harm the Player Plaintiffs by preventing them from being able to earn a living in their chosen profession during the prime of their careers, and it could harm LIV by allowing the tour's alleged anticompetitive conduct to continue during the pendency of the case.

"While the Court is sensitive to the golfers' need to earn a living during the pendency of the case, LIV has not identified how allowing the proposed amendment would cause any of the Plaintiffs undue difficulty in prosecuting their case. Moreover, LIV's speculation that adding PIF and [Al-Rumayyan] to the tour's existing counterclaim will delay resolution of the case does not demonstrate undue prejudice."

The decision comes less than a week after federal magistrate judge Susan van Keulen rejected LIV’s arguments that the PIF and Yasir Al-Rumayyan are protected by sovereign immunity laws because Al-Rumayan’s conduct “falls within the commercial activity exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act.” Should the ruling hold—Freeman has scheduled a hearing for Friday after LIV appealed the initial ruling—it would give unprecedented access into the business dealings of the sovereign wealth fund, which Saudi Arabia has long fought to keep secret.

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.

LIV Golf begins its second season this week.