Defending Omega Dubai Desert Classic champion Haotong Li was penalized two strokes on the final hole of the 2019 edition at Emirates Golf Club, popped when European Tour officials said his caddie lined him up before a putt.
Li was putting for birdie on the final hole, setting up a 4-foot putt. His caddie, Mike Burrow, was standing behind him to help him with a read and began to walk away from behind Li before the Chinese player putt his blade behind the ball. The caddie wasn't looking at Li when he put the putter head behind his ball.
— Brian McKinley (@brijon5555) January 27, 2019
However, the European Tour interpreted what the caddie did as lining up his player, which is illegal under Rule 10.2b of the new 2019 Rules of Golf.
The pertinent text of Rule 10.2b says:
While the stroke is being made, the caddie must not deliberately stand in a location on or close to the player’s line of play or do anything else (such as pointing out a spot or creating a shadow on the putting green) to point out the line of play
More specifically, the rulebook makes it clear a caddie cannot be anywhere near a player's line, even as the player is taking a stance.
When a player begins taking a stance for the stroke and until the stroke is made: The player’s caddie must not deliberately stand in a location on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball for any reason.
Under this rule, a player is allowed to back away from the stance on the putting green to avoid a penalty under Rule 10.2b. However, elsewhere on the course, a player cannot back away and avoid the penalty.
Under the new rule, when a caddie lines up a player, the player incurs a two-stroke penalty.
Some reacted to the penalty saying was the European Tour may have been too aggressive in branding the incident as a clear-cut case of a caddie lining up a player. Long-time caddie Craig Connelly, who worked for years with Martin Kaymer, was not happy with the ruling.
The penalty called on Li is absolutely ridiculous!!! Mike in NO way attempted to line him up! I call #bullshit
— Craig Connelly (@theweeman77) January 27, 2019
Others believed the European Tour was in the right because Li had taken his stance and aligned his feet, even if he hadn't grounded the putter blade behind the ball, with his caddie behind him.
This rule change was expected to have the biggest impact on the LPGA Tour, where for years players have been using their caddies to line up full shots. Instead, the first major infraction under the new rule has happened on the European Tour.
The end result was Li's birdie 4 turned into a bogey 6, moving him from T-3 to T-12 in the final leaderboard.