Phil Mickelson had already been suspended by the PGA Tour back in March prior to his defection to LIV Golf, according to a lawsuit Mickelson filed against the tour on Wednesday.
An antitrust claim made by Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and nine other LIV Golf members against the tour disclosed that Mickelson received disciplinary action for, among other things, attempting to recruit members to the Saudi-backed circuit. In the fallout of his controversial comments about Saudi Arabia and leveraging the tour, Mickelson said he was taking a personal leave of absence from the game during this time.
“Despite my belief that some changes have already been made within the overall discourse, I know I need to be accountable,” Mickelson said in February. “For the past 31 years I have lived a very public life and I have strived to live up to my own expectations, be the role model the fans deserve, and be someone that inspires others. I’ve worked to compete at the highest level, be available to media, represent my sponsors with integrity, engage with volunteers and sign every autograph for my incredible fans. I have experienced many successful and rewarding moments that I will always cherish, but I have often failed myself and others too. The past 10 years I have felt the pressure and stress slowly affecting me at a deeper level. I know I have not been my best and desperately need some time away to prioritise the ones I love most and work on being the man I want to be.”
According to the lawsuit, that sabbatical was extended by the PGA Tour.
“On March 22, 2022, the Commissioner suspended Plaintiff Mickelson (with the opportunity to apply for reinstatement in May of 2022) for, among other alleged reasons, ‘attempting to recruit players to join [LIV Golf],’” reads the complaint. “Following an appeal, the appeals committee (a three-person committee comprised of members of the Tour Policy Board) affirmed the Commissioner’s two-month suspension. On June 20, 2022, Mr. Mickelson applied for reinstatement from the two-month suspension. The Tour denied his request, stating that Plaintiff Mickelson violated Tour regulations by participating in the LIV Golf London Invitational. In addition to denying his request for reinstatement, the Tour extended Plaintiff Mickelson’s suspension, forbidding him from seeking reinstatement to play professional golf with the Tour until March 31, 2023.”
The complaint says that the tour then extended the suspension for Mickelson’s participation in the LIV Golf Portland event, “deferring even the mere opportunity to apply for reinstatement until after March 31, 2024.”
“Mr. Mickelson’s unlawful two-year suspension from the PGA Tour has caused him irreparable professional harm, as well as financial, and commercial harm,” the claim continues. “The Tour’s unlawful suspensions are denying Mr. Mickelson the right he has earned to play in events on the Tour, to earn compensation playing on the Tour, and to have the opportunities that come with such play. The Tour’s suspension has denied Mr. Mickelson the right to the platform and the public exposure provided by playing on the Tour.”
When speaking to the press at the Players Championship on March 8, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan repeatedly stressed the tour’s long-standing policy of not commenting on player suspensions, either those that have happened or those that might in the future. Conversely, Monahan was firm in saying that Mickelson had to answer for what he has said and done.
“He stepped away on his own accord, and he’s asked for time,” Monahan said. “He’s been given that time. We don’t comment on disciplinary matters, potential matters or actual matters. But every player is accountable for their actions out here.”
The PGA Tour, like any other employer or organisation, has the discretion to enact rules of conduct of its members, employees and independent contractors. One of the provisions in the PGA Tour Player Handbook and Tournament Regulations is that each PGA Tour member acknowledges the commissioner, the tour’s policy board and the appeals committee have the authority to permanently ban a member from playing in tour co-sponsored, approved or coordinated tournaments if the member violates its regulations.
The handbook also provides that a player ceases to be a member of the PGA Tour if, in the judgment of the policy board, the member commits a serious breach of the Tournament Regulations, the PGA Tour’s Code of Ethics or otherwise conducts himself in a manner unbecoming of a professional golfer. Lawyers previously outlined to Golf Digest—regarding the Handbook and Tournament Regulations—that the PGA Tour likely has the discretion to decide that joining a competing tour is a serious breach of its regulations.
Aside from skipping the Players Championship, Mickelson also missed the Masters and the PGA Championship—the latter in which he was the defending champion. His first appearance after his sabbatical was at the inaugural LIV Golf event in London, and he competed in the U.S. Open the following week, where he missed the cut.
When asked for comment, a PGA Tour spokesperson referred to a memo sent by Jay Monahan. Though Mickelson’s suspension is not specifically cited, Monahan called the lawsuit an attempt “attempt to use the tour platform to promote themselves and to free ride on your benefits and efforts.”
“Let me be clear,” Monahan wrote. “We will continue to defend the members who abide by the regulations written by and for the players.”