Playing in the final group at the Dubai Desert Classic alongside runaway winner Bryson DeChambeau, Li Haotong (pictured) was lining up a short putt for birdie on the 72nd green with his caddie standing behind him and under new rules was subsequently issued with a two-shot penalty.
Mike Burrow, the defending champion's caddie, moved away just as Li began to take his stance, and he rolled in the putt for what he thought was his 71st and final shot of the day, earning him a share of third place on 16-under par.
But European Tour officials found Li in breach of a new ruling, introduced at the start of this year, which prevents caddies from assisting their players with alignment.
European Tour CEO Keith Pelley said, “There has been much discussion and comment over the past 24 hours on the two-shot penalty given to Li Haotong for his breach of Rule 10.2b (4) on the 18th green of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.”
“Let me state initially that, under the new Rules of Golf issued on January 1, 2019, the decision made by our referees was correct, under the strict wording of the rules. It is my strong belief, however, that the fact there is no discretion available to our referees when implementing rulings such as this is wrong and should be addressed immediately.”
“Everyone I have spoken to about this believes, as I do, that there was no malice or intent from Li Haotong, nor did he gain any advantage from his, or his caddie’s split-second actions. Therefore the subsequent two shot penalty, which moved him from T3 in the tournament to T12, was grossly unfair in my opinion.”
“In an era where we are striving to improve all aspects of golf, we need to be careful and find the proper balance between maintaining the integrity of the game and promoting its global appeal.”
“I have spoken personally to R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers to voice my opposition to the fact there is no discretion available to our referees in relation to this ruling, and I will be making additional representation to the R&A in the near future to discuss the matter further.”
The decision was then confirmed by Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A.
He said, “We have reviewed the Li Haotong ruling made by the European Tour referees and agree that it was correct. There has been some misunderstanding of the new Rule and I would point out that it is designed to prevent any opportunity for the caddie to stand behind the player as he begins to take his stance.”
“Whether the player intends to be lined up is not the issue. We appreciate that it was a very unfortunate situation yesterday and I completely understand Keith Pelley's concerns when a Rules incident occurs at such a key stage of a European Tour event but there is no discretionary element to the Rule precisely so that it is easier to understand and can be applied consistently.”
“We are continuing to monitor the impact of the new Rules but I made it clear to Keith that our focus is very much on maintaining the integrity of the Rules for all golfers worldwide.”
10.2b(4) - Restriction on caddie standing behind player – explanation
Li Haotong’s caddie was on a direct line behind the ball when he began to take his stance on the 18th green. The player’s caddie must not stand behind the player for any reason when a player begins taking a stance. Haotong could have avoided the penalty if he had backed off the stroke and retaken his stance. He did not, hence a two-stroke penalty applied to his score on 18.
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