(Reuters) - The R&A has defended a new rule that cost defending Dubai Desert Classic champion Li Haotong of China a two-stroke penalty at the final hole of the tournament on Sunday.
According to the rule, one of a raft of changes introduced on Jan. 1, caddies are no longer allowed to stand directly behind their player and help with alignment.
The rule states that, “once the player begins taking a stance for the stroke, and until the stroke is made, the player’s caddie must not deliberately stand on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball for any reason.”
Li was penalized when his caddie, who had been standing behind him, moved to the side after he had started to take his stance for a putt.
The penalty turned a birdie into a bogey at the par-five 18th and led European Tour CEO Keith Pelley to call for a reassessment of the new rule.
“Let me state initially that, under the new Rules of Golf... the decision made by our referees was correct,” 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.”
On Monday, Martin Slumbers, CEO of the R&A, who run the sport worldwide along with the United States Golf Association, defended the lack of a “discretionary element” to the rule.
“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,” Slumbers said.
“We appreciate it was a very unfortunate situation yesterday and I completely understand Keith Pelley’s concerns... but there is no discretionary element to the rule precisely so that it is easier to understand and can be applied consistently.”
The penalty meant that instead of finishing equal third at 16 under par, Li dropped into a tie for 12t. It caused a stir across the world of golf, with a number of Li’s fellow professionals taking to Twitter to defend him.
British Masters champion Eddie Pepperell called the decision “shockingly bad”.
“Hard to believe @haotong_li has been penalized for this. Frankly, I think it’s a shockingly bad decision and for the life of me I cannot see how (caddie) Mike has lined Haotong up here,” Pepperell said on Twitter.
Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal also tweeted his support.
“After 2 weeks of golf in the @EuropeanTour... (one thing is clear)... the @RandA and @usga have to check those new 2019 golf rules... my Chinese brother @haotong_li didn’t deserve that penalty on the 72nd... the line is to thin,” he said.
Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris