Martin Slumbers, the chief executive of the R&A, has hit back at his European Tour counterpart Keith Pelley over the ruling that saw Haotong Li hit with a two-shot penalty after the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic.
Chinese star Li was docked two shots after an incident on the 72nd hole, where his caddie Mike Burrow was alleged to have lined him up. That practice is now banned under the terms of the new Rules of Golf, which came into effect on January 1.
However, there was some dubiety over whether or not what Burrow did constituted a breach of the rule, with many of Li’s fellow pros slating the penalty on the social media.
That prompted Pelley to issue a statement where, in addition to giving the referees who assessed the penalty his full support, he also launched a broadside at the R&A for introducing what he described as a poorly worded rule.
“The fact there is no discretion available to our referees when implementing rulings such as this is wrong and should be addressed immediately,” said Pelley, who added that he had spoken with R&A chief Slumbers since the incident.
However, Slumbers has since a released a statement of his own in which he adamantly refutes Pelley’s criticism of the new rule.
“We have reviewed the Li Haotong ruling made by the European Tour referees and agree that it was correct,” said Slumbers. “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.”