And then there were three.
The high-profile antitrust lawsuit originally brought by 11 LIV golfers against the PGA Tour now has just three golfers: Matt Jones, Bryson DeChambeau and Peter Uihlein. On Tuesday four other golfers—six-time major champion Phil Mickelson, Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Ian Poulter—voluntarily dismissed their claims against the PGA Tour in a case before Judge Beth Labson Freeman.
The dismissals were “without prejudice,” according to court filings obtained by Sportico. This means the golfers preserve the right to restart their claims later.
In the lawsuit, the golfers depict the PGA Tour as an illegal monopsony in controlling the buying of services offered by elite golfers. In siding with the PGA Tour on a temporary restraining order ruling, Freeman raised doubts about the golfers’ arguments. She noted the incongruity of the golfers describing LIV as superior while simultaneously claiming the PGA Tour has too much control over competition. The judge cautioned the litigation is still in an early stage and further evidence and testimony await.
Mickelson’s departure is noteworthy because the attorneys wrote his name first among the plaintiffs. This placement reflected Mickelson’s name recognition with both the media and the public. The case has enjoyed no shortage of headlines in part due to Mickelson’s involvement.
Substantively, the withdrawals do not change the merits of the litigation; the case continues, with the same legal arguments in place. Also, the trial date remains far in the future—Jan. 8, 2024—and with potential appeals, the litigation could last for years.
LIV also joined as a plaintiff last month, and Mickelson was recently quoted saying he didn’t believe his involvement was as essential with LIV joining. “The only reason for me to stay in is damages, which I don’t really want or need,” Mickelson told SI.com. “I do think it’s important that the players have the right to play when and where they want, when and where they qualify for. And now that LIV is a part of it, that will be accomplished if and when they win.”
LIV’s entry was impactful, since it brought a new tortious interference claim (LIV insisted the PGA Tour tried to prevent golfers from performing their contracts). LIV also suggests that having to pay the golfers more than the PGA Tour shows the only way to compete against an alleged monopsony is to excessively pay.
By stepping aside, the golfers will likely have fewer demands in terms of potential requests for testimony and sharing evidence, though they are still subject to demands as witnesses. If the golfers are concerned about the pretrial discovery process uncovering unflattering emails or texts, or venturing into their business dealings, stepping aside from the case makes even more sense. For instance, in an interview with Alan Shipnuck for his biography on Mickelson, the six-time major champion said he recruited three other “top players” for LIV Golf and that they paid attorneys to write the operating agreement for the proposed league.
Exiting the controversial case might also help them in terms of public relations and their relationships with sponsors. Jason Kokrak, who has also withdrawn from the case, lost a deal with a law firm in July.
(Jim Gorant and Eben Novy-Williams contributed to this report).