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Judge Denies LIV Golf Players' Request to Compete in PGA Tour's FedEx Cup Playoffs

Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones were seeking a temporary restraining order to play this week in Memphis.
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A federal district court judge has ruled against three LIV Golf players who filed for a temporary restraining order that would have allowed them to play in this week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship near Memphis.

Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones were part of a larger suit involving 11 LIV Golf players who made antitrust claims against the PGA Tour for being indefinitely suspended due to their association with the new LIV Golf Invitational Series which launched in June.

The three players will not be added to the field in Memphis, which stood at 121 players as of Tuesday. The event is the first of three FedEx Cup playoff events that will culminate with the Tour Championship two weeks from now in Atlanta, where the season-long winner will earn an $18 million bonus.

The players “were well aware of the consequences’’ of their actions, said judge Beth Labson Freeman as part of her remarks and that the players waited until “late in the process’’ to claim and “have not made their case.’’ But she acknowledged that the plaintiffs “made a compelling case.’’

Ultimately, Freeman suggested that the guaranteed contracts signed by LIV Golf players would make up for any monetary losses suffered by the players unable to compete in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

"It appears to the court that the LIV contracts, negotiated by the players and consummated between the parties, were based upon the players' calculation of what they would be leaving behind and the amount the players would need to monetize to compensate for those losses," Freeman said. "I do agree with the defendants that those losses were well known to the players at the time and clearly monetized."

And she added: "And, in fact, the evidence shows that it seems almost without a doubt that they will be earning more than they have made and could reasonably have expected to make in a reasonable amount of time under the PGA (Tour)."

Gooch, Swafford and Jones argued that they had earned their spot in the playoffs based on their play earlier this season and contested the fact that they should be suspended for playing in LIV Golf events.

The PGA Tour countered that the players who made the move to LIV were aware of the possible consequences and were breaking Tour rules by playing in opposite events without getting a conflicting-events release, as per regulations.

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

Upon hitting their first shots at the first LIV Golf event outside of London in June, Gooch, Swafford and Jones were notified of their immediate and indefinite suspensions from the PGA Tour, which meant they were prohibited from playing in PGA Tour events, including the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Presidents Cup.

"With today’s news, our players, fans and partners can now focus on what really matters over the next three weeks: the best players in the world competing in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, capping off an incredibly compelling season with the crowning of the FedEx Cup champion at the Tour Championship," commissioner Jay Monahan said in a memo to PGA Tour players, a copy of which was obtained by Sports Illustrated.

Robert Walters, an antitrust litigator representing LIV Golf and the three players, noted that the FedEx Cup is “effectively the Super bowl of golf,’’ because of the income opportunities. The FedEx Cup has a total bonus pool of $75 million, with $18 million going to the winner. When Freeman questioned him about why the golfers could not simply wait until after the FedEx Cup to join LIV, he said there were only 48 spots and “they are all filled’’ for next year.

Freeman countered that the players stood to gain far more financially by joining LIV than the money that they might earn in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

“This is an extraordinarily attractive financial opportunity but it’s much more than that,” Walters said, explaining that the players lose other potential benefits, such as qualifying for the major championships. Three of the four majors give exemptions to players who finish in the top 30 of the FedEx Cup standings.

Freeman suggested that the case could go to trial next year.

Related: British Open Champ Cameron Smith Reportedly Signs with LIV Golf