The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the PGA Tour is under scrutiny from Department of Justice investigators who are probing whether officials broke competition laws when they punished golfers for taking part in a rival operation.
That competitor is the Saudi-backed LIV Tour, which, since it launched just last month, has caused plenty of disruption in the usually placid golf world. Several former World No. 1’s and other big-name golfers (most past their prime), including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and Sergio Garcia, participated in the first LIV event, lured by enormous bonuses that exceeded $100 million. In retaliation, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan indefinitely suspended 17 golfers from PGA events, while a couple of players resigned in favor of the LIV Tour of their own accord.
The DOJ’s inquiry, according to golf agents who have been in touch with investigators, focuses on those suspensions, as well as warnings issued by Monahan not to join the rival tour, and the question of whether the PGA conspired with a European tour and the four major championships to deprive LIV participants from earning Official World Golf ranking points.
The LIV Tour’s CEO is golf legend Greg Norman, who has become something of a pariah on the PGA Tour. Norman has argued that golfers are independent contractors who are not bound by one organization. He told Mohanan in a letter in February that “when you try to bluff and intimidate players by bullying and threatening them, you are guilty of going too far, being unfair, and you likely are in violation of federal law.”
The DOJ investigation recalls a Federal Trade Commission probe in 1994 over similar restrictions, in which PGA players had to receive permission to compete in outside tournaments. “This was not unexpected,” a PGA Tour statement said. “We went through this in 1994, and we are confident in a similar outcome.”