LIV Golfers Antitrust Case Closely Resembles Legal Cowboys, Bowlers

Former PGA Tour golfers’ antitrust fight to play in upstart league LIV Golf without losing their PGA membership evokes similar battles undergone by rodeo cowboys and elite bowlers that intimate the legal path ahead.

A lawsuit brought by golf star Phil Mickelson and other pros in the US District Court for the Northern District of California challenges PGA Tour policies that led to their expulsion for playing for Saudi Arabia-backed rival LIV Golf. The PGA Tour allegedly maintains a monopoly over elite golfers by limiting their ability to play for other tours, according to the complaint.

The golfers’ suit bears a similarity to earlier lawsuits brought by players of niche sports, most notably elite rodeo cowboys and competitive bowlers. The parallels offer a useful window into understanding the golfers’ suit and how it may fare after they lost a request for a temporary restraining order Aug. 9. 

“Fundamentally, you have an individual sport, and the incumbent organization doesn’t like the presence of a new organization,” said Doug Ross, an antitrust professor at University of Washington School of Law. “And it passes rules making it hard or impossible for members to participate in events for the new organization.” 

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