The European tour was within its rights to sanction members who competed on the Saudi-funded LIV Golf without permission, an independent tribunal ruled Thursday.
An appeal panel at Sport Resolutions found that a number of players, including Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, committed “serious breaches” of the European tour’s code of behavior by playing in LIV Golf events last year.
The ruling allows the European tour to impose fines of 100,000 pounds ($125,000) on players who competed in the rival league without a conflicting events release.
Keith Pelley, the European tour chief executive, said he was happy the panel gave clarity to the situation and determined the tour was not being anti-competitive.
“I’m delighted they’ve recognized the responsibility we have as an organization to administer our rules and regulations,” Pelley said in a conference call from the Masters. “That’s really important. These rules and regulations were created by the members for the members to protect the members who signed them.”
He also said it would be looked upon as a landmark case for all sports organizations.
“It’s not OK to sign up for something and then arbitrarily not adhere to those rules and regulations,” Pelley said.
Pelley said he would be headed back to London to work on the next step, including determining what would be a fair penalty for the European tour members who defected and played a full slate of LIV events.
The decision could lead to some of them simply resigning their membership.
Pelley said the ruling would make it difficult for any of the LIV players to be part of the Ryder Cup matches in Rome at the end of September. They must be European tour members to play in the matches, and that means adhering to the regulations.
“This is their choice,” Pelley said. “If they adhere to the consequences, if they pay the fines, if they live up to the consequences for breaching what we impose on the future, we welcome them back.”
LIV Golf said in a statement it disagreed with the “procedural opinion” and that the panel “failed to address in reasonable substance why competitive forces must be upheld.”
“By punishing players for playing golf, the (European tour) is seeking to unreasonably control players, and it is the sport and fans that suffer,” the statement said. “There are no winners.”
The European tour imposed the fine on members competing at the inaugural LIV event at the Centurion Club outside London last June and suspended them from the Scottish Open. Poulter, Adrian Otaegui of Spain and Justin Harding of South Africa appealed, allowing LIV players to compete in European tour events.
Otaegui won the Andalucia Masters in Spain last fall.
Sport Resolutions heard the case in February over five days of private hearings, with Westwood, Garcia, Patrick Reed, Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer, Sam Horsfield, Richard Bland, Shaun Norris, Laurie Canter, Wade Ormsby, Bernd Weisburger, Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace also having issued appeals.
Garcia, Schwartzel, Grace and Otaegui withdrew their appeals just before the hearings took place.
Pelley, the panel found, “acted entirely reasonably in refusing releases.”
The tour said the original fine handed to players competing at Centurion must now be paid within 30 days.
“It is, of course, regrettable that resources, both financial and staffing, which could have been otherwise deployed across our organization, have been impacted by this lengthy arbitration process,” Pelley said.
The PGA Tour’s court case is different. LIV Golf is leading an antitrust lawsuit in federal court in California — the PGA Tour filed a countersuit — and a tentative trial date has been set for no earlier than January of next year.
Three players — Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones — sought a temporary restraining order last August to play in the PGA Tour’s lucrative postseason. A federal judge denied the request, saying they did not show irreparable harm because of the money they were guaranteed by joining LIV Golf.
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson in Augusta, Ga., contributed to this report.
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