Greg Norman/LIV Golf challenge PGA Tour’s legal right to ban players in memo

Betty Q. Hixson

On Tuesday in a mandatory players meeting at the Honda Classic, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan dug in to any player who was still considering a jump to Saudi-backed super league.

“He made it clear right off the top that if you’re going to play [the super golf league] walk out that door now,” said one player who requested anonymity.

According to various sources, the commissioner didn’t use the words “lifetime ban,” which had been the veiled threat for those flirting with the super league. Legally there may be good reasons for the Tour’s reluctance to address potential punishment directly.

In a memo sent to players and agents last Friday by Greg Norman, the CEO of LIV Golf, which is the investment fund behind the super league, the rival league challenged the Tour’s ability to ban players.

“In our view and in the eyes of the law, the PGA Tour’s threats are utterly impermissible under competition and other laws,” Norman wrote.

Tuesday’s mandatory players meeting at the Honda Classic didn’t exactly go as scripted for PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.

Along with the letter from Norman was an attachment with seven “bullet points” explaining why the Tour is on shaky legal ground if they do ban a player – from each player’s rights as an independent contractor to a collection of antitrust laws and the Tour’s status as a non-profit corporation.

“Permanently banning from the PGA Tour professional tournament golfers who contract to play professional golf would violate its non-profit purpose and would subject the PGA Tour to possible liability or government action, and could cause it to lose its non-profit status for not operating in accordance with its exempt purpose,” read one of the bullet points.

Under the Tour’s rules, the commissioner has the authority to discipline players for “conduct unbecoming a professional” with what is defined as a major penalty (a fine in excess of $20,000, suspension from tournament play for more than three tournaments and/or permanent disbarment from play in PGA Tour events). But Norman and the LIV Golf legal team argued differently.

“None of us should stand for these egregious acts of bullying by the PGA Tour,” Norman wrote.

The memo also gave a glimpse into LIV Golf’s efforts to create the super league with the cooperation of the Tour.

“It is the PGA Tour’s choice – and not ours – to refuse to entertain constructive dialogue for the betterment of the game and stakeholders across all sectors, particularly players,” the memo read, adding “We will continue our efforts to respectfully co-exist.”

A Tour spokesman declined to comment on the memo, but players were told at Tuesday’s meeting the circuit is confident in their legal stance.

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