Lawyers, start your engines!
On Monday, Robert Garrigus became the first professional golfer to request a release from the PGA Tour to play in a Saudi-backed event, according to a report from Golfweek. The decision is likely to set off a legal battle between both the Tour and Greg Norman’s LIV Golf Investments, which is staging and funding the event as part of a larger tournament series.
The Tour has promised to place a lifetime ban upon any player who competes in an event staged by Norman’s rival “startup,” which is attempting to form a rival league. Norman is rumored to have billions in funding for the new league from the Saudi government’s sovereign wealth fund, and has promised to bring any attempt by the Tour to withhold players from competition to court.
At the heart of the issue is a battle over player rights. The PGA Tour views its constituents as “independent contractors,” which affords both the Tour and its constituents certain financial advantages, like the ability to compete in non-PGA Tour events. LIV Golf has argued that any lifetime ban imposed by the PGA Tour would violate that principle, and would come in violation of antitrust laws. The Tour’s lawyers believe the antitrust suit is without merit, seeing as banned players could still compete on other tours, and have referred to the Tour’s player-written bylaws, which allow it to impose suspensions and bans in response to player misconduct. The Tour’s navigation of Garrigus’ situation will be watched closely, as it will likely serve as the precedent-setter for future LIV Golf events and competitors.
Attracting talent has proven a problem for the new league. Many of golf’s top players — including those with rumored interest like Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau — have already pledged their allegiance to the PGA Tour. Phil Mickelson, who once appeared to be Norman’s highest-profile signee, is currently on a self-imposed hiatus from both professional golf and public life after blowback from his comments about the league.
Garrigus, a 44-year-old pro from Nanda, Idaho, has played sparingly over the previous few years, primarily in alternate-field PGA Tour events. He owns one PGA Tour win (at the 2010 Children’s Miracle Network Classic) and currently ranks 1,053rd in the Official World Golf Ranking.
The LIV Golf Invitational will be played on June 9-11 at London’s Centurion Golf Club. PGA Tour players who wish to compete are required to submit their application for release 45 days in advance of the tournament, or April 25, while the Tour is required to provide an answer 30 days before the tournament begins, or May 10.