Keith Pelley issues statement following Haotong Li debacle

Keith Pelley European Tour Chief Executive

Don’t blame us. Blame the R&A.

That appears to be the message from European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, who has issued a statement in the wake of the controversial penalty given to Haotong Li in the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic.

Following the completing of his final round, the Chinese star was assessed a two-stroke penalty for an incident on the 72nd hole, where his caddie Mike Burrow was alleged to have lined him up.

That’s in contravention of a the newly-enforced Rules of Golf, which prohibits caddies from standing behind players as they’re preparing to hit a shot or when they take their swings.

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The new rule specifies that from the time a player ‘begins to take a stance for the stroke’ until the stroke is made, a caddie ‘must not deliberately stand on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball for any reason’.

Believing he and his caddie to be in breach of that rule, European Tour referees penalised the 23-year-old, sparking fury from many of his fellow pros on Twitter.

In response, tour chief Pelley has this afternoon issued a strongly-worded statement in which he supports his referees’ decision but hits out at the R&A for introducing a rule that doesn’t allow for discretion.

Haotong Li

Here’s the statement:

“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.

“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.

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“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 R&A has also addressed the matter today via of a trio of tweets:

Haotong Li's penalty - your thoughts?

Do you think Haotong Li was rightly penalised in the Dubai Desert Classic? Do you agree with Keith Pelley that his referees acted appropriately? Or do you think they got it all wrong? Leave your thoughts in our Comments section below.

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