European Tour chief Keith Pelley’s plea to R&A for rules ‘discretion’

Keith Pelley, the European Tour chief executive, has called for golf’s governing bodies to allow “discretion” to be used over new rules introduced at the start of the year.

Haotong Li of China was penalised two shots in Dubai. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

The plea was issued as Pelley said a two-shot penalty handed to China’s Haotong Li during the final round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday was “correct” but, at the same time, “grossly unfair”.

Li, the defending champion, lost around £80,000 after European Tour rules officials deemed he’d breached Rule 10.2b (4) on the 72nd hole as his caddie, Mike Burrow, was alleged to have lined him up.

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The penalty dropped Li from a tie for third to joint 12th, sparking an outcry from a number of players, including 2014 Ryder Cup-winning captain Paul McGinley.

In a statement, Pelley said: “There has been much discussion and comment over the past 24 hours on the two-shot penalty given to Li Haotong.

“Let me state initially that, under the new Rules of Golf issued on 1 January, 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.’

In a response to that statement, Slumbers issued one of his own, saying: “We have reviewed the Haotong Li 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. 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.”