LIV Golf contracts under spotlight after damning detail comes to light

Seen here, LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman with Dustin Johnson at a tournament in 2022.
LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman is seen here with Dustin Johnson at a tournament in 2022. Pic: Getty

A lawyer for LIV Golf has made a startling admission in federal court that contradicts previous statements about contracts signed by players in the Saudi-backed series.

During a court hearing on behalf of three LIV Golf stars trying to stop the PGA Tour from banning them playing in the FedEx Cup playoffs starting this week, a lawyer for the players reportedly mentioned that money won in LIV tournaments is “recouped against the LIV contracts.”

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Australia's Matt Jones, Talor Gooch, and Hudson Swafford challenged the PGA Tour's decision to ban them from competing in the season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs, after all three had joined the Saudi-backed rebel series.

The three suspended golfers were seeking a temporary restraining order so they could play in the FedEx Cup playoffs but the motion was denied by US District Judge Beth Labson Freeman.

The judge said she didn’t consider the golfers faced irreparable harm because of the big money they were guaranteed by joining LIV, which a key issue in the case.

“There simply is no irreparable harm in this case,” PGA Tour attorney Elliot Peters said.

That guaranteed money is also now under the spotlight after an admission from a LIV lawyer that prizemoney on offer in tournaments is counted against some players' signing-on fees.

Many of the top players who defected from the PGA Tour were paid large sums of money up front by LIV, with some players' earnings from the lucrative LIV events recouped from their contracts.

It means that in the case of some players, it would not matter if they finish last in LIV Golf events because they've already been guaranteed considerable sums of money.

The LIV lawyer did stress that each player's contract is different, meaning while not all earnings are recouped from contracts, some definitely are.

The stunning revelation contradicts previous assertions from LIV Golf after Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee and others first put it to the organisation that players didn’t make additional money from winning events.

Brooks Koepka said "I don’t know" when asked at a LIV press conference in Portland whether a player’s winnings come out of their signing bonus.

It prompted an intervention from a LIV spokesperson at the end of the interview to deny that prizemoney counted against their contracts.

“I just wanted to address [the] question earlier when you were asking about the prize purses and if they are in addition to the contracts,” the spokesperson said.

“The prize purses are in addition to. There is no draw at LIV Golf on any finances,” she said.

“We just wanted to, on the record, it’s in addition to. And while you guys have, this is your first event, but you should know that from your contracts. You can attest to it. Thank you guys.”

Judging on the admission from LIV's lawyer in court, this statement would not appear true for all players in the Saudi-backed series.

The three players who saw their PGA Tour bans upheld are among 10 players who filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour last week — including Phil Mickelson.

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Robert Walters, an antitrust litigator representing the golfers, noted this would be their opportunity on a big playoff stage, “effectively the Super Bowl of golf” because of its “significant income opportunities.”

Freeman responded that the LIV Tour earnings potential was also great and asked whether players might have been able to wait until the conclusion of the PGA Tour season to depart for the new tour.

Walters argued there were only 48 spots and they would have filled up according to LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, to which Freeman said she agreed with that stance but that the golfers stood to gain far more financially joining LIV than the money they might have earned on the PGA Tour.

Seen here, Matt Jones looks on during a golf tournament in 2022.
Matt Jones and two other LIV Golf stars have lost their court appeal after being banned by the PGA Tour from competing in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Pic: Getty

“This is an extraordinarily attractive financial opportunity but it’s much more than that,” Walters said, saying the harm done is that “players lose intangible benefits” such as qualifications for the major tournaments as well as other marquee invitationals.

“This is the holy grail because everybody wants to compete in and prevail in major championships, but it’s not just the majors,” Walters said. He noted that the PGA Tour inferred these golfers would put a “taint” or “stench” on the tour’s image by playing, perhaps even wearing LIV Tour gear in PGA Tour tournaments.

“We’re disappointed that Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones won’t be allowed to play golf. No one gains by banning golfers from playing," LIV Golf said in a statement.

The first of three FedEx Cup playoff events begins this week. Two tournaments offer $15 million prize funds, and the player who wins the FedEx Cup at East Lake in Atlanta gets $18 million — thus the urgency for Freeman to rule. This case could go to trial next year, with the possibility of an injunction hearing in late September or early October.

with agencies

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