In a move with ramifications for the ongoing antitrust litigation between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour, the Official World Golf Ranking announced Thursday that it will not award points to upcoming LIV events. The move comes on the heels of the Dubai-based Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Tour seeking to make its LIV-affiliated events over the next few weeks OWGR point eligible.
OWGR, which recognized the MENA Tour in 2016, explained its decision on procedural and timing grounds. He emphasized “inadequate” notice and the need for OWGR to follow its normal course of review. According to OWGR’s timeline, MENA contacted OWGR on Wednesday, the same day MENA publicized a “strategic alliance” with the Saudi-backed LIV. The alliance begins play in Thailand on Friday, with the LIV Golf event at Stonehill Golf Course near Bangkok.
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The OWGR ratings are repeatedly cited in the 118-page amended complaint on behalf of LIV and a group of golfers that started with Phil Mickelson and 10 others but now has just three—Matt Jones, Bryson DeChambeau and Peter Uihlein. LIV attorneys argue that the exclusion of LIV events from point-eligible play represents an injury to both LIV and its golfers.
While the PGA Tour claims “OWGR continued” to question the points eligibility of LIV’s events, LIV’s complaint contends that “this conduct serves no beneficial purpose, but harms the players’ careers (Player Plaintiffs in count) which plays i. LIV Golf events, and to discourage other players from joining LIV Golf to avoid ruining a career on the Tour.”
LIV also asserts that the PGA Tour has considerable influence over OWGR and has pressured it to overcome alleged antitrust violations. LIV notes that “The OWGR Governing Board includes the PGA Tour Commissioner [Jay] Monahan” and argues that the PGA Tour “followed the other golf bodies in the world that have representatives on the OWGR Governing Board to make their request to increase threats to an association with LIV Golf.”
Until then, LIV claims the PGA Tour “enlisted Tiger Woods to bid and publicly criticize golfers – especially younger golfers – for joining LIV Golf suggesting they would never play in The Masters, The Open, or in other Majors and they would not earn. OWGR points.” In July, Woods warned that players entering LIV might “never get a chance to play in a major tournament, never get a chance to experience this here, walk down the fairways at Augusta National. . . especially if the LIV organization does not receive first-class points and the major championship changes its criteria for entry into the events.”
LIV’s attorneys can point to OWRG’s rejection of MENA as evidence of a supposed PGA Tour conspiracy to undermine LIV’s chances of becoming a true contender.
But the argument may not hold much sway.
In August, Judge Beth Lisbon Freeman was not convinced that the PGA Tour was deemed ineligible was the type of injury the courts should address. She emphasized how LIV golfers say LIV is better than the PGA Tour, including in terms of potential earnings and flexibility of play. Even without OWGR points, she emphasized that LIV golfers “are not prevented from playing professional golf against the best players in the world, from earning lucrative prizes in some of golf’s highest profile events, from earning sponsorships, or from fame , building a brand, and following fans in elite golf.”
The case is currently scheduled for a jury trial set to begin on January 8, 2024.
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