Eleven golfers on the LIV Golf circuit, including Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, have filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour, challenging their suspensions after they joined the controversial Saudi Arabia-financed rebel tour.
The suit was filed Wednesday in the Northern District of California by Mickelson, Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, Matt Jones, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Ian Poulter, Pat Perez, Jason Kokrak and Peter Uihlein.
The PGA Tour suspended players who appeared at the inaugural event of the LIV Golf series north of London in early June.
Critics consider LIV to be a tool of the Saudi government, accusing it of seeking to distract attention from Riyadh’s human rights record and potential links to 9/11 plotters.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said at the time that 17 members competing in the inaugural LIV event were in violation of the Tour’s tournament regulations and that they "made their choice for their own financial-based reasons.”
The bombshell lawsuit accuses the PGA Tour of exercising its monopoly muscle to crush its overseas competition and in the process punish players who joined it.
Critics say LIV Golf is a blatant attempt to win international influence and prestige while rehabilitating a reputation tarnished by numerous human rights concerns and the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The complaint says that the rise of the LIV Golf series "threatened" the PGA's influence as the most powerful name in golf and that as a result "the tour has ventured to harm the careers and livelihoods of any golfers who have the temerity to defy the Tour and play in tournaments sponsored by the new entrant," including the 11 plaintiffs.
“The Tour’s conduct serves no purpose other than to cause harm to players and foreclose the entry of the first meaningful competitive threat the Tour has faced in decades,” the suit says.
The complaint alleges the Tour has “threatened lifetime bans” of players who play in even one LIV Golf event.
“It has backed up these threats by imposing unprecedented suspensions on players (including the Plaintiffs) that threaten irreparable harm to the players and their ability to pursue their profession,” the suit said. “It has threatened sponsors, vendors, and agents to coerce players to abandon opportunities to play in LIV Golf events.”
The lengths of the suspensions differ, with some as low as nine months and others 21 months to indefinite terms, the complaint says.
Three players — Gooch, Swafford and Jones — requested a temporary restraining order on their suspensions to allow them to play in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, which kick off next week. They qualified for the competition but were banned by the Tour for participating in LIV. The complaint says preventing them from playing would cause “irreparable harm.”
The competition tour, backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, is reported to have offered huge sums of money to players to join, with each LIV event offering $25 million in prize money — more than the $20 million for the PGA Tour’s flagship event.
NBC News has asked LIV and the PGA Tour for comment.
LIV CEO Greg Norman recently said on Fox News Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” that golf icon Tiger Woods turned down at least $700 million play in the series.