Golf’s next great battle could take place in a courtroom, but make no mistake about it, it’ll be decided on the course.
On Wednesday, Phil Mickelson joined 10 other LIV Golf players in filing an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour in an effort to have their suspensions lifted. The suits allege the PGA Tour’s suspensions serve no purpose other than to cause harm to the players and to restrict LIV’s growth, and ask the court to issue a temporary restraining order that would allow each of the players to return to competing on the tour of their choice.
For the LIV 11, the goal of the suit is simple. If they are successful, each of the 11 players will be free to compete on whichever circuit they please, be it the PGA Tour, LIV, or the DP World Tour. But there’s one group who could stand in the way of even the group’s most successful legal efforts: their fellow professional golfers.
At the Wyndham Championship, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III suggested that, should the courts rule in LIV’s favor, the PGA Tour’s players could take the dramatic step of boycotting tournaments attended by LIV players, setting the scene for what would be the first labor-related work stoppage in PGA Tour history.
“If we say to the FTC and to Washington, ‘no, we support the rules, we don’t want those guys playing,’” Love III said. “We don’t care what the courts say. Our only option really, the nuclear option, is to say ‘well fine, if they have to play in our events, we just won’t play.’”
Of course, any decision to boycott would require collective action among the Tour’s 175 card-carrying members, a massive accomplishment in one of the few professional sports without a labor union or collective bargaining. Unilateral agreement among the Tour constituency is exceedingly rare, and is one of the reasons responsible for the creation of the Tour’s Player Advisory Committee (PAC), a representative system in which players are elected to protect the best interests of the constituency.
But Love III says the LIV issue could be the rare issue strong enough to elicit a near-universal response from players. After all, he says, LIV inclusion on the PGA Tour would serve as a threat to players’ own personal and financial interests.
“If the LIV guys sue and are allowed to play on the PGA Tour, the players are enough fed up with it,” Love III said. “We understand that we make the rules on the PGA Tour. The commissioner is enforcing our rules. We don’t want those guys playing and coming in and cherry-picking our tournaments.”
In Love III’s vision, Tour players wouldn’t be forced to boycott every week on the calendar, only the weeks in which LIV players would submit for an entry into the field. If players have the freedom to choose the events they wish to enter without recourse, Love III’s logic goes, they too should have the freedom to choose which events not to enter.
It’s a radical vision, and one that remains unlikely to reach reality, but for a player group that has been rendered powerless to LIV defections and suspensions for the better part of two months, it’s also a reminder of the powers that are responsible for professional golf’s existence, and the ones that are not.
“We hold all the cards — not Jay [Monahan], not [PGA of America Commissioner] Seth Waugh, not [USGA CEO] Mike Whan, they don’t hold all the cards — we hold all the cards,” he said.