Greg Norman fires back at PGA Tour

Columnist image

A back-and-forth exchange between the PGA Tour and the upstart rival Super Golf League continued in recent days, with both sides taking firm stands on who would be eligible to play on their tours.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has stated his circuit has the right to ban any golfer who signs on to play the Saudi-backed SGL headed by Greg Norman, possibly for life.

Norman responded on Thursday in a letter to the commissioner that was made public, suggesting that such a ban would be illegal under antitrust and competition laws in the United States.

“Simply put, you can’t ban players from playing golf,” wrote Norman, who heads up LIV Investments which runs the SGL. “Players have the right and freedom to play where we like.”

To back up his point, Norman cited comments from an article on the website Inside Sources by Alden Abbott, a lawyer who served as the general counsel of the US Federal Trade Commission.

“Let’s be clear. A lifetime ban is never going to happen,” Abbott wrote. “PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is no doubt being advised by high-priced lawyers who – if they are worth even a fraction of their lofty rates – have surely advised him of the legal consequences that will blow up in the PGA Tour’s face if it imposes lifetime bans on independent contractors who choose to associate with a competitor.”

There are previous cases to back up Abbott’s point. The NFL blacklisted players in the 1940s and ’50s for playing in rival leagues, believing it had an exemption from antitrust laws, as did Major League Baseball. But the supreme court struck that down, leading to the creation of the American Football League.

Another point made in Abbott’s article is the penalty for violating the antitrust laws – triple damages to a successful antitrust plaintiff. In this case, the Super Golf League could earn a massive payoff based on its investments in the new league to this point.

The antitrust situation is just one part of the potential problems for the PGA Tour. Abbott also states that there is also a possibility the Tour could lose its tax-exempt status, something that could be quite costly and shake the foundation of the circuit.

All these legal situations appear to be an aimed at calming the fears of potential converts to the Super Golf League.

Over the past 10 days, a number of top players have made public their intentions to stay with the PGA Tour. Rory McIlroy went so far as to say the league was “dead in the water in my opinion.”

On Wednesday, the SGL was dealt a blow by Phil Mickelson, thought to be one of the tour’s biggest supporters. He was forced to issue an apology and clarification after disparaging comments he made about the Saudis and his intentions in a conversation by writer Alan Shipnuck, were released.

Monahan met with players this week at the Honda Classic, where he reportedly reiterated his stance that players who move to the rival tour would be banned.

“I told the players we’re moving on and anyone on the fence needs to make a decision,” Monahan said on Wednesday to the Associated Press. “All this talk about the league and about money has been distracting to our players, our partners and most importantly our fans. We’re focused on legacy, not leverage.”

Norman seemed to indicate that while some have written off the SGL, he is prepared to dig in for a battle.

“Commissioner – this is just the beginning,” Norman wrote. “It certainly is not the end.”

Leave a Comment