The U.S. Department of Justice has begun investigating whether the PGA Tour engaged in anti-competitive practices in its battle with the Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf circuit, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
The PGA Tour confirmed the investigation to the Journal, which reportedly involves the DOJ's antitrust division sending inquiries to player agents regarding the PGA Tour bylaws governing players' participation in non-tour events in the past, compared to LIV Golf events in the present.
The LIV Golf tour, which is financed by the Saudis' sovereign-wealth fund, launched in the spring; and as a means of attracting some of the world's best golfers to the circuit, the LIV Tour reportedly shelled out contracts exceeding double-digit millions to the likes of Dustin Johnson (reported $150 million), Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, and Bryson DeChambeau (reported $100 million).
As a result, though, the PGA Tour has suspended every LIV Golf signee from its calendar of Tour events. Whether it's a yearly ban, or a permanent removal from tour events, remains to be seen.
In the future, this crackdown on the LIV Golf tour could also extend to two of professional golf's four major tournaments: The PGA Championship and the Open Championship.
This isn't the first time the PGA Tour has gotten some pushback on its competitive practices.
In 1994, a Federal Trade Commission investigation explored the legality of two PGA rules — one barring golfers from playing in a non-PGA event without the commissioner's permission, and the other relating to players potentially appearing on televised golf programs not tied to the PGA Tour.
By 1995, however, the FTC had backed off its probe, according to the Journal.
"This was not unexpected," the PGA Tour spokesman said of the new probe. "We went through this in 1994, and we are confident in a similar outcome."
The PGA Tour bylaws say that tour players cannot participate in outside televised golf events, without the approval of the commissioner.
The bylaws also require tour players to request a release to play in tournaments that conflict with PGA Tour events.
Players are reportedly eligible for up to three such releases per season, and no such releases can be granted for events in North America.
The LIV Golf circuit's most recent event took place in Portland, Oregon.
The Journal also reports that, earlier this year, LIV Golf officials sent a letter to players and agents accusing the PGA Tour of monopolistic behavior, claiming that if the PGA Tour followed through on banning players who joined LIV, it would "likely cause the federal government to investigate and punish the PGA Tour’s unlawful practices."
"There is simply no recognized justification for banning independent contractor professional golfers for simply contracting to play professional golf," the letter said.
A number of PGA Tour loyalists, such as Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, and Jordan Spieth, have spoken out against the LIV Golf format, which offers guaranteed money to all participants and no cuts after two rounds.
And last week, Spieth crushed all the rumors of joining the Saudi-backed LIV Tour, by issuing the following statement: "Because of the false reporting [from last week], I feel the need to comment. Let me be clear, any reports that I am contemplating competing anywhere other than the PGA Tour are categorically untrue.
"I am NOT in discussions with LIV. I have been quoted on the record for months that I fully support the PGA Tour and have never considered alternatives. My goal has not changed since I began playing golf — to win PGA Tour events and major championships and to compete against the best players in the world. Those who truly know me, know what is most important to me."
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