Tour Confidential: Ashleigh Buhai survives, and the LIV lawsuit against the PGA Tour
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss Ashleigh Buhai’s playoff victory at the Women’s Open, LIV Golf’s lawsuit against the PGA Tour, and more.
1. In the final golf major of the year, Ashleigh Buhai defeated In Gee Chun in a four-hole playoff to win the Women’s Open at historic Muirfield. Buhai started the final round up five strokes, dropped into a tie after a costly triple bogey, then prevailed for her first major title. Whew, what a roller coaster. What more impressed you: her relative dominance over the first 54 holes, or her ability to refocus and close after what was largely a shaky final round?
Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): As tough as it is to build a big lead in a major, it’s got to be even tougher to reclaim one that you’ve lost. What Buhai did on Sunday is as rare for Tour pros as it is for pilots — she pulled herself out of a death spiral. Impressive stuff.
James Colgan, assistant editor (@jamescolgan26): Her last hole was perfectly indicative of what impressed me more. That she was capable of getting up and down from that horrifying bunker was impressive, but even more so that she did it just seconds after hitting a 30-yard block. The comeback is far harder.
Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): WIld day! How many players have shot 75 in the final round of a major … and won?! Short list! Definitely most impressed by Buhai’s ability to keep it together after the triple. The majors have a long history of players who cruised for 54 … or 58 … or 62 holes only to be undone by a couple of loose shots that sent them into a bad headspace. Buhai’s resilience was stellar. First win in four years, and first LPGA title, period. Quite a way (and place) to do it.
2. Phil Mickelson joined a group of 10 other LIV Golf pros in filing an antitrust suit against the PGA Tour, opening up a dramatic new theater in the battle for golf’s future. The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Northern California and first reported by the Wall Street Journal, alleges the PGA Tour is acting unlawfully in the suspensions it has levied against LIV’s players. The group of 11 seeks to have their suspensions overturned and their playing privileges reinstated, while a smaller group of three players — Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones — has petitioned the court to issue a temporary restraining order allowing their participation in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, which begin Thursday. We’ll start with the immediate question: Will we see LIV players in Memphis?
Sens: Unlike half of golf Twitter, I can’t pretend to be an attorney. But I have asked a few legal experts about this and they say that Gooch, Hudson and Jones’ request for a temporary restraining order has little chance of succeeding. It’s a high legal standard they have to meet — demonstrating that they risk suffering immediate and irreparable harm. As one attorney put it to me, temporary restraining orders are generally reserved for things like domestic violence, or as safeguards against reckless presidential orders, or to prevent corporate mergers that would damage the public good. They generally aren’t issued to ensure that already wealthy golfers get a crack at another paycheck. These experts could be wrong, of course. But I trust their opinions over any tweets with clown-face emojis I’ve read so far. So I’m going to go with no. We will not see LIV players in the field at Memphis. We’ll find out in court this week.
Colgan: Yes, we will. The rest of the suit aside, it seems Gooch, Swafford and Jones have a legitimate argument that the Tour is illegally enforcing a suspension against them (by not allowing them to play while they await an appeals hearing). Of course, I’m no legal expert, but it seems logical to me the courts will rule in favor of the players.
Bastable: I had assumed the players would be greenlighted but perhaps not — Sens clearly has done more homework on the topic than I have! If they do play, what then? What kind of reception can they expect in Memphis from their former PGA Tour brethren? If recent comments from Davis Love and Justin Thomas are any indication, the Tour loyalists have not taken kindly to the suit. As JT said a few weeks back, the LIV players aren’t just suing the Tour as an entity, they’re also suing the Tour members themselves. Tiger, Rory, Big Tone, the whole crew. Hard feelings? Yeah, there might be just a few.
3. What most surprised you about the 105-page complaint?
Sens: Probably that Mickelson is one of the plaintiffs. I was surprised that he was willing to open himself up to the prospect of having opposing counsel rifling through his books. Also: Why does Phil have a separate lawyer from the rest of the guys in the suit? Though I guess that’s kinda on brand for Mickelson.
Colgan: Agreed, Sens. I was also surprised to learn the PGA Tour imposed lifetime bans on the players who ‘resigned’ their membership, but not on those who maintained theirs. Must be an interesting legal reason for that anomaly.
Bastable: I don’t know if I was surprised by the amount of jockeying and politicking that was happening behind the scenes as LIV was trying to take flight, but I was fascinated to learn more about it. If the allegations are true, before LIV was an actual tour with actual players, LIV signees (or prospective LIV signees) were being commanded to “publicly profess” their loyalty to the PGA Tour. Meanwhile, Augusta National was allegedly “threatening” to disinvite players from the Masters. The lobbying machine was seemingly hard at work. Important to remember that the suit is only one side of the story and filled with unproven allegations, but its 105 pages still provide much previously unknown color.
4. As referenced above, the lawsuit alleges Augusta National threatened to disinvite players from the 2022 Masters if they signed with LIV. Given the claims in the suit are just that, we won’t ask you to speculate on them — but the allegations about Augusta do raise a more general question about the importance of the majors in the LIV vs. PGA Tour battle. When you weigh what LIV will require for long-term sustainability, how essential is access to the majors?
Sens: This gets to the question of whether LIV events will eventually be eligible for Official World Golf Ranking points, which provide a pathway into the majors. People at LIV will tell you that it’s in the OWGR’s interest to recognize LIV, pronto, if the rankings are to remain fair and accurate, that you can’t have credible rankings that don’t take into account the performance of guys like DJ, Reed, et al. I understand that argument. But you could also argue the opposite. That LIV urgently needs that recognition, too. If it can’t provide its players a way into the majors, that’s a serious blow to its long-term appeal.
Colgan: Getting into the majors isn’t just a key piece of LIV’s future, it is the beginning, middle and end of it. No majors, and the league won’t exist in five years. The more interesting question, however, is what happens if LIVers earn access to only half of the majors? Could we see a Masters invite be influential enough to topple a rival league?
Bastable: Hard to see how LIV doesn’t get accredited by the OWGR. If the OWGR were to deny the new tour points, it would undercut the very credibility of the ranking itself. It may take six months or a year or even longer — and LIV may even need to make some adjustments to its competitive format — but the league will be accredited. The credibility conundrum is also in play for the majors. The Masters, PGA, U.S. Open and Open Championship all want the best players in the world in their fields, period. Without the best of the best, the season’s four biggest events would lose some of their luster. They don’t want that, and neither do golf fans.
5. LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman confirmed this week that his league offered “in the neighborhood” of $700 million to $800 million for Tiger Woods’ services. The offer, Norman said, came in LIV’s earliest days, well before Norman took the job. Two questions. What’s your takeaway from the Woods’ side? And what’s your takeaway from the LIV side?
Sens: From the LIV side, if they’re going to spend eight-figure sums on the likes of Pat Perez and Charles Howell, then of course they’d offer that kind of money for the biggest name in the history of the game. That’s a bargain by comparison. From Tiger’s side, that he really does believe the things he said at St. Andrews about the importance of legacy and tradition. Also, that he has plenty of money already.
Colgan: Tiger’s greatness as a professional athlete is irrevocably tied to his PGA Tour record. Flouting the Tour to go to LIV would only undermine his own legacy. For a guy already worth a cool billion, that’s more important than money. For LIV, Tiger *is* relevance. He might be worth a full $2 bill, if only they could sway him.
Bastable: Give LIV this much: They aimed high. Like, really high, beginning with the two GOATs in Jack and Tiger. One wonders how many other luminaries they approached before landing on Norman. Tiger wouldn’t have taken the commish gig for a trillion dollars and early access to the next edition of Call of Duty. He’s a legacy guy. A history guy. A lore guy. Chasing and breaking records is what gets him out of bed.
6. With the major season — on both the men’s and women’s sides — now officially in the books, what’s your overriding memory from those nine events?
Sens: Cam Smith putting around the Road Hole bunker on his way to that amazing up and down on Sunday at the Old Course. Talk about a moment that captured one man’s magic with a single club.
Colgan: Tiger’s return on Masters Thursday morning might be the coolest moment I’ve witnessed in this job. His walk over Swilcan Bridge on Friday, though, is the moment of the year in the sport.
Bastable: Forgive my recency bias, but that look of relief on Buhai’s face after she’d holed the winning putt at Muirfield on Sunday was an image I’ll remember for a while. Colgan has also hit on two biggies. On a personal note, I most enjoyed watching Bryson and JD bash their way around the Old Course together in the opening round of the Open. They play a game with which Old Tom would not have been familiar.