European Tour Commissioner Calls Out Governing Bodies

The controversial penalty levied against Haotong Li following Sunday’s final round at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic has resulted in an unprecedented reaction from European Tour commissioner Keith Pelley.

In response to a ruling that the R&A confirmed was correct, Pelley took the rules, and by extension, golf’s governing bodies to task publicly.

Li was penalized two strokes for what was deemed to be his caddie lining him up illegally under Rule 10-2b(4), dropping him from a tie for third place into a tie for 12th place, the difference of which was just over $100,000. 

“(The rule) applies as the player begins taking a stance, which includes when the first foot moves into position,” the R&A said in their statement. “This rule prevents any opportunity for a caddie to line up a player. Intent to line up is not needed for this rule to play. On the putting green, the player can back away from the stance to avoid a breach of the rule.

“It was an unfortunate situation, but the rule was applied correctly.”

Pelley responded shortly after the R&A’s statement was released, not criticizing the European Tour’s officials, but the rules, and the governing body for how they were written.

“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,” Pelley 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 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.”

Pelley continued his statement by saying there needs to be a balance in place that not only upholds the integrity of the game, but also makes the game appealing to those outside of it. 

He closed his remarks by promising to follow up with the R&A about making common sense discretion available to the Tour’s officials.

“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,” Pelley said.