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GOLF DOCTOR

LIV: Some golfers get rich, lawyers get rich, golf suffers

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One of the obligations I take seriously in writing this column is to keep our readers up to date on important and breaking golf news. As most of you know by now, men’s professional golf has been basically thrown into chaos by the introduction of LIV Golf, a brainchild of Greg Norman and financed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund. I began explaining this in January, just as Norman began buying players from the PGA Tour. In my June 17 column, I covered Phil Mickelson’s prominent role in assisting the start-up of LIV Golf, as well as some of the well-known players who were paid enormous sums for signing on to LIV Golf, and who were suspended indefinitely by the PGA Tour. On Aug. 26 in my “sport vs. game” article I summarized lawsuits brought by LIV Golf players aimed at the PGA Tour.

Now let’s get up to date.

On Sept. 28 the PGA Tour filed a lawsuit against LIV Golf seeking damages for lost revenues and reputational harm. With eight players dropping out of the original LIV suit against the PGA Tour only three remain: Matt Jones, Bryson DeChambeau and Peter Uihlein (son of retired CEO of Titleist), along with LIV Golf, Inc. Writing for si.com/golf, Alex Miceli reports it is the PGA Tour’s assertion that “LIV was a willing participant in convincing players to breach their contracts with the Tour by paying them large sums of money.” In some cases that was in excess of $100 million. This is a highly complicated case, with one precedent already decided with the U.S. District Court judge in Northern California ruling that three LIV players were not entitled to participate in the FedEx Cup playoffs. In both cases, the original LIV Golf antitrust lawsuit, and the PGA Tour countersuit, nothing will be decided until sometime in 2024.

In other golf/legal news, former PGA Tour player and 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed (now a LIV Golf player) filed a $750 million lawsuit Aug. 16 in U.S. District Court against golf analyst Brandon Chamblee and the Golf Channel (owned by NBC), alleging they had been “actively targeting Reed since he was 23 years old to destroy his reputation, create hate, and a hostile work environment for him, with the intention to discredit his name and accomplishments.”

As of Sept. 28 Reed’s attorney has moved the suit from Texas to a  Florida court and added Golf Channel personalities Damon Hack, Shane Bacon and Eamon Lynch, as well as Golfweek (magazine) and its parent company, Gannett. Lynch is also a golf writer for USA Today and Golfweek.

As one of golf’s leading analysts, Chamblee was highly critical of Reed following a rules incident during the 2019 Hero World Challenge tournament in which Reed was penalized for improving his lie in a sand bunker. Repeated videos of that gave very little doubt. There have been numerous other reports of Reed cheating, dating as far back as his college days at Augusta State. Reed has claimed Chamblee and The Golf Channel “conspired” with the PGA Tour and commissioner Jay Monahan to “engage in a pattern and practice of defaming” him.

Meanwhile, there’s the issue of possible inclusion of LIV golfers into the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) system. Those golfers have not gotten OWGR points since they joined LIV Golf. OWGR points are a critical factor for playing in all four majors.

In mid-September a group of 50 LIV players sent a letter to Peter Dawson, the chairman of the OWGR, seeking that body to quickly consider its application for world ranking points. That letter challenged the “historical value” of OWGR for every month they are denied. The soonest points could be allowed is the middle of 2023, if ever. The biggest shortcomings for LIV to get points are OWGR rules for a 36-hole cut, no 72-hole events (only 54 holes), and small fields of only 48 players.

Rory McIlroy recently made a public statement that “golf is ripping itself apart.” I disagree.

It is Greg Norman who is disrupting the golf ecosystem, and it may go on for years to come.

Charlie Blanchard