R&A defends Li's penalty, Tour calls for relook

Chinese golfer Li Haotong in the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic. He was penalised two shots at the last hole as his caddie moved to the side after he took his stance for a putt.
Chinese golfer Li Haotong in the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic. He was penalised two shots at the last hole as his caddie moved to the side after he took his stance for a putt.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

DUBAI • The R&A has defended a new golf rule that cost China's Li Haotong a two-stroke penalty at the final hole of the Dubai Desert Classic last Sunday.

Caddies are no longer allowed to stand directly behind their players and help with alignment, one of a raft of changes made to the Rules of Golf on Jan 1.

The rule 10.2b (4) states: "Once the player begins taking a stance for the stroke, and until the stroke is made, the player's caddie must not deliberately stand on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball for any reason."

The 23-year-old Li was penalised when his caddie Mike Burrow, who had been standing behind him, moved to the side as he started to take his stance for a putt.

The penalty turned a birdie into a bogey and cost the defending champion over €80,000 (S$123,500) in prize money as he dropped into a tie for 12th instead of joint-third.

European Tour chief executive officer Keith Pelley even called for a reassessment of the new rule.

"Let me state initially that, under the new Rules of Golf... the decision made by our referees was correct," he said. "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."

On Monday, Martin Slumbers, chief executive of R&A, which runs the sport worldwide along with the United States Golf Association, defended the lack of a "discretionary element" to the rule.

"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," he said.

"We appreciate it was a very unfortunate situation and I completely understand Keith Pelley's concerns.

"But there is no discretionary element to the rule precisely so that it is easier to understand and can be applied consistently."

The controversy caused a stir, with a number of players taking to Twitter to defend Li.

Irish veteran Paul McGinley posted: "This is so ridiculously marginal. The player should be given the benefit of the doubt. The rule changes are largely about the spirit of the game & player integrity not this pedantic-ness (sic)."

Spain's Pablo Larrazabal also tweeted his support.

"The R&A and USGA have to check those new 2019 golf rules... my Chinese brother didn't deserve that penalty on the 72nd... the line is too thin," he said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2019, with the headline 'R&A defends Li's penalty, Tour calls for relook'. Print Edition | Subscribe