Irish duo Paul McGinley and Graeme McDowell have been drawn into a rules controversy that has erupted following an incident on the final green of last Sunday’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
China’s and defending champion, Haotong Li was slapped with two-stroke penalty after it was deemed his caddy had not moved in assisting in lining-up Li’s birdie putt.
A European Tour rules official advised that the actions were illegal and the subsequent bogey that Li had to place on his card, after he had birdied the hole in reality, sent him from a then T3rd finish to an eventual share of 12th place and he also forfeited some Euro 90,000 in prize-money compared to what he would have earned in finishing joint third.
European Tour CEO, Keith Pelley went so far as to release a statement declaring the ruling to be ‘grossly unfair’ after Li had been deemed to breach Rule 10.2d (4).
“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, which is wrong and should be addressed immediately,” said Pelley.
“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 forth.”
Well, no sooner had Pelley issued a statement when Slumbers was also releasing a statement in response.
“We have reviewed the Li Haotong ruling made by the European Tour referees and agree that it was correct. 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,” said Slumbers.
“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.”
It would seem that the R&As response was not what McGinley or McDowell clearly wanted to read with the 2019 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open host taking to Twitter saying: “This is so ridiculously marginal. The player should be given the benefit of the doubt. The rules changes are largely about the spirit of the game and the play and not his pedanticness ….”
McDowell, who is currently nursing a wrist injury, backed McGinley’s assessment; “I see no evidence of the caddy trying to assist the player in alignment of the putter here,” G Mac said on his Twitter page.