Bloomberg Law
May 19, 2023, 5:22 PM

LIV Golf’s Saudi Backers Seek Exit from Court Fight Against PGA

Mike Leonard
Mike Leonard
Legal Reporter

Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund is asking a federal judge to let it out of the legal battle between the professional golf league it sponsors, LIV Golf, and the PGA Tour.

The fund and its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, moved to dismiss the business interference claims against them, which the PGA filed in response to antitrust litigation launched by 11 professional golfers who were later joined by LIV. The filing Thursday came a day after Judge Beth Labson Freeman said the Saudis can hold off on turning over documents while they appeal her ruling enforcing subpoenas against them.

There’s nothing wrongful “about LIV forming a competing golf league and trying to recruit tour players, including by offering them a better deal,” the fund said in its motion. “These professional golfers are independent contractors who make their own decisions about where to play.”

The increasingly acrimonious court fight began last year, when Phil Mickelson and 10 other golfers sued the PGA, claiming it’s illegally monopolizing the sport. Other top golfers initially participating in the lawsuit included Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, and Matt Jones. Jones and Bryson DeChambeau, the last two golfers involved in the case, formally dropped out of it Thursday.

The PGA, meanwhile, brought counterclaims targeting LIV, accusing the rival startup of interfering with its business and contracts. The litigation has sprawled over time, roping in not just LIV’s Saudi financiers but also—indirectly—former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the families of 9/11 victims.

The Saudi fund and its governor were eventually named as defendants. Al-Rumayyan is also chairman of the state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco and Newcastle United FC, a soccer team in England’s Premier League that’s 80% owned by Saudi Arabia’s government. He’s a board member at Uber Technologies Inc.

In their motion Thursday, the fund and Al-Rumayyan pointed to the PGA’s “narrow theory” that LIV induced the golfers to breach their contracts not by walking away from the tour, but by trying to play for both leagues simultaneously. The counterclaims involve “the contracts of only seven golfers,” and they have nothing to do with LIV’s hands-off financiers, they said.

The filing also reprised the argument that the Saudis enjoy sovereign immunity, which can shield foreign governments from many forms of legal liability and certain aspects of the litigation process. Although Freeman rejected that idea in the subpoena context—the ruling that’s currently on appeal—that was before the PGA amended its claims to adopt its “rather unusual theory,” the motion said.

It also asserted several other grounds for tossing the counterclaims, including lack of jurisdiction over the fund and the applicability of Saudi law, which “does not recognize tortious interference” as a valid legal claim. Even if the suit “stated a viable tort claim against LIV (which it does not), it would still fail to state one against” the fund, according to the filing.

The fund and Al-Ramayyan are represented by White & Case LLP. LIV is represented by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. The PGA is represented by Keker, Van Nest & Peters LLP and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.

The case is Jones v. PGA Tour Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 22-cv-4486, motion to dismiss counterclaims filed 5/18/23.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mike Leonard in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Carmen Castro-Pagán at; Andrew Harris at

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