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Judge escalates PGA Tour's counterclaim against LIV Golf with addition of defendants

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A California U.S. District Court judge has escalated the antitrust lawsuit filed against the PGA Tour by adding the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and its governor as defendants in the Tour’s counterclaim suit.

Last week, Judge Susan van Keulen ruled that the PIF, which owns 93 percent of LIV Golf according to court documents, and its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, must submit to discovery in the antitrust case and counterclaim as “third parties” but the addition of the fund and its governor as defendants promises to complicate an already complex lawsuit.

The antitrust lawsuit was filed against the Tour last August by a group of players who had been suspended by the circuit for participating in LIV Golf events. The Tour responded with a counterclaim that LIV Golf interfered with the circuit’s existing contracts with players who joined the breakaway league and subpoenaed the PIF and Al-Rumayyan for information related to the creation of the new league and the recruitment of players.

PGA Tour's counterclaim vs. LIV Golf escalated

PGA Tour's counterclaim vs. LIV Golf escalated

Tuesday’s ruling by Judge Beth Labson Freeman in the Northern District of California now adds the PIF to the suit despite the fund’s argument that it’s nothing more than an investor in LIV Golf and has no control over the day-to-day operations of the breakaway league, which begins its first full season this week in Mexico. The fund has also argued that it is immune to U.S. jurisdiction.

Among the arguments against adding the PIF as a defendant in the counterclaim is how the addition of a sovereign foreign wealth fund would create an “undue delay” in the antitrust case, which is on an expedited schedule and set for a January 2024 trial. Judge Labson Freeman dismissed that argument writing, “Any delay LIV attributes to this amended pleading is not likely to outlast the delay caused by the subpoena dispute over PIF and [Al-Rumayyan’s] discovery and LIV’s anticipated motion seeking review of Judge van Keulen’s order.”

Judge Labson Freeman also ruled in a separate order that much of the motion to add PIF as a defendant will remain sealed with the exception of any discovery involving LIV’s relationship with PIF and its control over the league.

“Alleged control over LIV goes to the heart of the counterclaim, thus rendering the public interest in access to the information especially great,” Labson Freeman wrote.