ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the PGA Tour’s handling of its players and whether it has engaged in anticompetitive behavior during its ongoing battle with the LIV Golf Invitational Series, a new circuit being financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
The inquiry, according to player agents who have been contacted by DOJ officials, is focused on the PGA Tour’s actions regarding the Official World Golf Ranking, warnings it has issued to players who were contemplating joining LIV Golf and suspensions that have been levied against players who left by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.
A PGA Tour spokesperson confirmed the DOJ’s inquiry to ESPN. The Wall Street Journal first reported details of the investigation Monday.
“This was not unexpected,” the PGA Tour statement said. “We went through this in 1994 and we are confident in a similar outcome.”
The agent of a player told ESPN on Monday that he was first contacted by DOJ officials about three weeks ago. His client had left the PGA Tour to join LIV Golf. The agent did not want his identity or the player’s revealed because of the sensitive nature of the inquiry.
“They have launched an investigation into the PGA Tour and wanted to know if [my client] would be willing to participate in a confidential and voluntary interview,” the agent said. “They wanted to ask him about his interactions with the PGA Tour during the evolution of LIV Golf.”
The agent added that the DOJ attorneys were “a little bit like a dog with a bone. They’re on this. I expect them to dig as deep as they can because they’re all over this. I could tell.”
Monahan has indefinitely suspended more than 20 players who competed in LIV Golf’s first two events in London, England, and Portland, Oregon, without being granted conflicting-event releases. Among them are former major champions Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson.
Some of the players were lured to LIV Golf by signing bonuses of more than $100 million and purses of $25 million for each event.
Some players, including former Masters champions Patrick Reed and Garcia, have resigned from the PGA Tour.
One of the issues that is being closely examined by the DOJ, according to another agent, is whether the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and the governing bodies of the majors are conspiring to not award Official World Golf Ranking points to LIV players. The 48 players who competed in the first two LIV events were not awarded world ranking points.
Three players, including longtime PGA Tour member Ian Poulter, were granted a stay by a British court to compete in last week’s Scottish Open. They had been banned from playing in the event, which is co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour and DP World Tour.
In 1994, the Federal Trade Commission investigated whether the PGA Tour had violated federal laws by requiring its members to obtain permission from the commissioner to play in outside events and appear on other golf TV programs. The FTC ended that probe without penalizing the PGA Tour.
LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, a two-time Open champion, has argued that professional golfers are independent contractors and should be allowed to play wherever they want.
“Surely you jest,” Norman wrote in a letter to Monahan in February. “And surely, your lawyers at the PGA Tour must be holding their breath. As has been widely reported, you have threatened the players on the PGA Tour, all of whom are independent contractors, with lifetime bans if they decide to play golf in a league sponsored by anyone other than the Tour.
“But when you try to bluff and intimidate players by bullying and threatening them you are guilty of going too far, being unfair, and you likely are in violation of federal law.”