When Phil Mickelson and 10 other former PGA Tour players brought an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour on Aug. 3, 2022, it seemed to have some merit.
It wasn’t David vs. Goliath, but LIV was seemingly in a minority position.
With the Saudi involvement and its Public Investment Fund money throwing cold water on LIV’s immediate success, it provided talking points for many in the media to attack not only LIV but the players who were now considered defectors.
Over time, most of the 11 players including Mickelson have dropped out of the suit, many have given up their PGA Tour memberships and slowly the antitrust case is grinding through the morass of the justice system.
With media reports on almost every motion filed by both sides and minor or procedural decisions by the court, the case has had tremendous scrutiny.
It also fair to say that the steam that LIV Golf, now a named plaintiff in the case, had at the beginning seems to have dissipated and the Tour, which seemed to be one step behind as LIV was launched, has stepped up its game and is winning most of the small skirmishes in court.
But all this may change with the most recent revelation, first reported by Golf Channel, that the PGA Tour, sometime in the summer of 2022, decided that nonmembers who participated in an unauthorized tournament would be ineligible to compete in any PGA Tour-sanctioned event for one year.
“The PGA TOUR has determined that any player who has participated in an unauthorized tournament is ineligible to compete in any event sanctioned by the PGA TOUR for a period of one year from the final round of competition of the unauthorized tournament in which he participated. Once any period of ineligibility has ended, a nonmember may participate in PGA TOUR events and any qualifying events such as the PGA TOUR Qualifying Tournament. An unauthorized tournament, as defined in the Tournament Regulations, means any golf event (i) for which the Commissioner has denied or has indicated he would deny all conflicting event releases and/or media releases or (ii) not eligible for releases because it is held in North America.”
Ironically, while the definition of unauthorized tournaments is written in the 2022-2023 PGA Tour Player Handbook & Tournament Regulations, this rule that covers non-members was not included.
How can the Tour have a rule about player eligibility that is not in its handbook?
And how could the PGA Tour have control over an individual who is not yet a member?
The idea that the Tour has control over its membership is understandable, as those players agreed to the rules when they join the tour. But non-members have not agreed to any of those regulations prior to playing in Q-School or if receiving a sponsor’s exemption into a tournament.
When former U.S. Amateur champion James Piot decided to make the jump to LIV last spring, it was because he wanted a place to play. His agent, Michael Flynn, and other agents had been told by Tour officials at that time that non-members would not be discriminated against if they played in LIV events, but that their rules would be subject to change.
On Wednesday, Flynn told Sports Illustrated he had no knowledge of the rule until it was reported on Tuesday.
Piot, who is playing in the Saudi International this week, is focused on playing better than he did in eight LIV Golf events last year, where he earned $1,936,000.
With a contractual commitment to LIV for one more year, Piot recently spent 10 days in Southern California working on his game with Hy Flyers GC team captain Phil Mickelson.
Spain’s Eugenio Chacarra turned professional last year and left Oklahoma State University to go to LIV. He would have been a fifth-year senior who qualified for the Korn Ferry Tour through the PGA Tour University rankings, but ultimately he wanted to play against a higher-quality field and ended up winning on LIV as a 22-year-old.
“I’m just playing golf, getting better and proving myself with the best players in the world. That’s all of what I can control, and if they want to ban me one year then that’s on them. I did nothing wrong, I just decided to start my career here to get better playing with the best players every week and then I will see where life takes me,” Chacarra said via text from Saudi Arabia. “But I’m happy where I am and I still have years of contract here. Everything changes quick and you never know what will happen in the next years.”
Former PGA Tour policy board member Jordan Spieth was unaware of the regulation but backs the premise that the PGA Tour does not want to have a player representing LIV early in the year and then getting a sponsor’s exemption or finding a legitimate way on to the PGA Tour later in the year.
“I guess I’m supportive of that,” Spieth said of the non-member ineligibility. “I think the idea that you could be representing both in the same year is probably what they’re trying not to have happen.”