The lawsuit against the PGA Tour just lost its star plaintiff: Phil Mickelson
What is shaping up to be the biggest lawsuit in PGA Tour history has for months been known as ‘Mickelson et al vs. PGA Tour’, a fitting moniker considering Phil Mickelson was the biggest name of 11 original plaintiffs. That has suddenly changed as Mickelson has officially withdrawn his name from the lawsuit, along with three other LIV golfers Tuesday.
The suit, which was filed on Aug. 3, has progressed through an initial hearing (which the PGA Tour won, keeping LIV golfers from competing in the FedEx Cup Playoffs) and has reached the phase where discovery of information and documents is being dictated. Over the last eight weeks, a handful of LIV pros withdrew their involvement: Carlos Ortiz, Pat Perez, Abe Ancer, and Jason Kokrak. When asked why he departed, Perez told SI.com, “I didn’t really think it through [when joining]. I did it to back our guys.”
Now on Tuesday, four other players have pulled out of the suit, namely Phil Mickelson, the lead plaintiff. Mickelson was working with his own counsel and had hinted at this weeks ago and finally made it a reality this week.
“I am focused on moving forward and extremely happy being a part of LIV, while also grateful for my time on the Tour,” Mickelson said in a statement. “I am pleased that the players on Tour are finally being heard, respected, and valued and are benefitting from the changes recently implemented. With LIV’s involvement in these issues, the players’ rights will be protected, and I no longer feel it is necessary for me to be part of the proceedings.”
Ian Poulter, Hudson Swafford and Talor Gooch have also withdrawn from the proceedings, leaving just Bryson DeChambeau, Matt Jones, Peter Uihlein and LIV Golf itself as the remaining plaintiffs in the case. Will the suit maintain its name of Mickelson et al vs. PGA Tour? Probably not. It is just further indication that the suit, which LIV Golf joined after it had initially been filed, was always trending toward LIV Golf vs. PGA Tour.
By pulling out of the suit, Mickelson and the others who followed do not fully clear themselves of involvement. As major pieces of the LIV Golf puzzle, it is still possible they could be deposed by either side for means of discovery. Mickelson’s name had been linked with a rival golf tour for more than a year prior to his official announcement in June.
The suit itself hinges on the competition between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour since LIV has entered the professional golf industry and pulled prime Tour talent to its side with guaranteed contracts, backed by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. PGA Tour members have long been discussed as independent contractors who can choose where and when they compete. But PGA Tour regulations limit the ‘where’ and ‘when’ when it takes place at the same time as Tour events.
Members are allowed to apply for a release three times a year, 45 days in advance of an event, which the Tour either approves or disapproves. In the instance of LIV Golf’s first event, held in London in early June, Tour members were not granted releases yet continued to play in the event. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan promptly suspended them indefinitely or banned them from returning to the PGA Tour. Those golfers incurred additional suspensions as they continued to make starts in LIV events. That is merely one aspect of the lawsuit that LIV believes is an illegal, anticompetitive act. Despite numerous players and their council withdrawing from the suit, LIV contends it will move forward.
“Nothing has changed,” LIV Golf said in a statement. “The merits of the lawsuit — the PGA Tour’s anti-competitive conduct — still stand and will be fully tested in court, and we look forward to it. We stand by the players who the PGA Tour has treated so poorly, but we also recognize to be successful we no longer need a wide variety of players to be on the suit. We have our players’ backs and will press our case in court against the PGA’s anti-competitive behavior.”