European Tour chief Keith Pelley calls Haotong Li penalty "grossly unfair," calls for rule update
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European Tour chief Keith Pelley calls Haotong Li penalty “grossly unfair,” calls for rule update

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley is calling on the USGA and R&A to modify the new rule which led to a questionable two-stroke penalty for Haotong Li on the final hole of the 2019 Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

Li was putting for birdie on the final hole at Emirates Golf Club, setting up a 4-footer. Li's 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 putter behind the ball.

Under the strict letter of Rule 10.2b(4) of the new Rules of Golf, European Tour officials said Burrow was lining up Li, which is now considered illegal and comes with a two-stroke penalty. The text of the new rule says a caddie cannot be behind or close to their player, even when 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, Li didn't back off and hit the putt. He made it, then had to add two strokes and took a bogey 6. He went from T-3 to T-12, costing him some $98,000.

Pelley said the ruling made by his officials was correct, "under the strict wording of the rules." However, Pelley added: "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."

Pelley has reached out to his counterpart at the R&A, chief executive Martin Slumbers, to raise his qualms with the rule -- obviously, a public statement following that amplifies things a touch -- and to seek an update to the rule as quickly as possible.

Slumbers responded quickly, and it looks like the R&A is comfortable with the ruling and resulting penalty.

"We have reviewed the Li Haotong ruling made by the European Tour referees and agree that it was correct," Slumbers said in a statement. "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.”

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Ryan Ballengee

Ryan Ballengee is founder and editor of Golf News Net. He has been writing and broadcasting about golf for over a decade, working for NBC Sports, Golf Channel, Yahoo Sports and SB Nation. Ballengee lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. He used to be a good golfer.

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