Li penalty grossly unfair, says European Tour CEO

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley has called for a rule change after Li Haotong was handed a two-shot penalty at the Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday.

Li was punished at the final hole at the Emirates Golf Club after his caddie was deemed to have stood in “a direct line behind the ball” when the player began to take his stance on the 18th green.

That was deemed to have broken a new rule introduced by the USGA and R&A to prohibit caddies providing such assistance.

However, the decision was met with frustration by the likes of Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell and Eddie Pepperell.

And CEO Pelley agreed with the European Tour’s top players, calling for match referees to have more discretion when assessing the situation.

In a statement, he said: “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.

“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.”