Keith Pelley calls for referees to be able to use discretion after ‘grossly unfair’ Li penalty


European Tour CEO Keith Pelley has issued a statement on the controversial penalty assessed on Hoatong Li at the Dubai Desert Classic, deeming it ‘grossly unfair’. 

Martin Slumbers, R&A Chief Executive, has since responded to Pelley with a statement of his own. Click here to read. 

European Tour CEO Keith Pelley has issued a statement following a huge amount of backlash from fellow Tour Pros over the two-shot penalty given to Haotong Li on the 72nd green. 

The incident, which involved Li and his caddie Mike Burrow, saw them line up the putt and his caddie move away as he began to set-up to his golf ball. There was a short overlap, but the intention of the caddie was clearly to leave Li to it, yet the rule states a ‘caddie must not stand behind the player for any reason when a player begins taking a stance.’

He rolled in the putt to finish in a share of third place with a final round 71. Or so he thought. Instead, he was assessed a two-shot penalty on the final hole, dropping Li from 3rd to tied 12th, losing him not only a huge amount of money but world ranking points. It was deemed ‘harsh’, ‘ludicrous’ and a ‘disgrace’. 

And now, Pelley says that the referees acted correctly under the strict wording of the rules but that there should be an immediate look at how discretion towards the player is handled.

At present, the rule doesn’t permit any discretion, but the outrage it has drawn from fellow tour pros over the accidental and marginal breaking of this rule by Li and his caddie has caused Pelley to call for a look at the rules. 

The Incident

‘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,” the statement from Pelley said.

‘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 Rule Explained: 

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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