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PGA Tour, LIV Golf headed for battle off the course and into the courts

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LIV Golf has been wrangling to get PGA Tour players for quite a while. That battle for player loyalty, by anyone's and (most) everyone's account, will likely go from the golf course to the court room in the near future.

How might it all play out? Even legal minds are curious.

Jeffrey Rosenblum is a Memphis-based lawyer who, according to his bio on his firm’s website, “concentrates his legal practice in the areas of wrongful death, catastrophic injury, medical malpractice and civil rights law.”

Although that description doesn’t fit perfectly with the current contentious landscape in professional golf, to understand the path forward in the expanding divide between some of the game’s top players and the PGA Tour, Rosenblum has a unique background.

Beyond Rosenblum’s bona fides as an attorney, which are outstanding, his understanding of the Tour and its regulations might be unparalleled for a lawyer outside of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. He represented Doug Barron in his lawsuit against the circuit in the mid-2000s and Vijay Singh when he sued the Tour a decade later.

Both of those lawsuits focused on the Tour’s anti-doping program, but the player handbook and its regulation remain largely unchanged and very much at the center of the current conversation.

On the eve of LIV Golf’s first event in London, the potential legal fallout goes beyond speculation. Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has made the circuit’s stand abundantly clear – members will not be allowed to play the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV series. All requests for conflicting-event releases - which are required by the Tour’s regulations - into this week’s LIV event were denied. That means the dozen or so Tour members who are set to tee it up on Thursday at the Centurion Club will be risking sanctions.

"Our governance system has been driven by our players and our board, and we have regulations in place that allow us to protect the interests of our media partners, our sponsors and all of our constituents, and if we got to that point in time, we would take measures to vigilantly protect this business model,” Monahan said at The Players in March.

Bryson to join LIV, will not resign from Tour

A report says Bryson DeChambeau is headed to play the LIV Golf circuit. His agent released a statement.

What those sanctions might be remain unknown. During a player manager meeting last week at the Memorial, Tour officials were repeatedly asked what sanctions players like Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau might face for playing the LIV events. According to various sources, Tour officials would not provide specific details on potential punishments.

Most agree, however, there will be sanctions. Most also agree, that from those sanctions will come a lawsuit pitting players against the Tour. According to one player who requested a conflicting-event release into this week’s event, LIV Golf officials offered to pay whatever legal fees arise from what many feel is an inevitable lawsuit.

What might the challenge look like? After a short pause, Rosenblum’s response was measured: “If I was approached by a player, I would put together a team and research the case. I would want to give a well-educated answer,” he said. “I do think there are some very good legal arguments to make that there is freedom of competition. I do believe someone would likely challenge [sanctions from the Tour].”

Rosenblum is a lawyer with a better-than-average understanding on how the Tour machine works. He’s also a golf fan. “As a golf fan, I’m interested and intrigued by what is about to happen,” he admitted.

He also pointed out that there is plenty of ground between what is currently a disagreement between some players and the Tour, and what may become a lawsuit. 

On Tuesday, Dustin Johnson announced in a press conference in London that he is resigning his Tour membership. Kevin Na also resigned his membership, stating on social media that if he remained a Tour member he would face “disciplinary proceedings and legal action” for playing the LIV events.

By contrast, Mickelson and DeChambeau do not plan to resign from the Tour which, according to Rosenblum, would set the stage for a legal showdown.

“The Tour has made it clear that you’d be violating their rules. The golfers who have resigned would no longer be governed by those regulations,” he said. “[But] golfers who have not resigned, if the Tour has made an official position on this, then it becomes an issue when the first ball goes in the air.”

In first LIV presser, Phil declines to discuss 'PGA Tour issues'

Phil Mickelson declined to say Wednesday whether he has been suspended or banned by the PGA Tour and emphasized that he does not condone human-rights violations in Saudi Arabia.

There is also the issue of how potential Tour sanctions would impact a player's status with the organizations that run the majors. The USGA announced this week that players who are participating in this week's LIV event would be allowed to play next week's U.S. Open, if they are eligible. CEO Mike Whan said the USGA reserved the right to make changes in the future.

Rosenblum, the measured lawyer, wouldn’t speculate on where the next challenge may come. But Rosenblum, the fan, was certainly interested.