European Tour chief Pelley criticises Li Haotong shot penalty

Golfer Li Haotong
Li finished third at the Open in 2017

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley has described the penalty received by Li Haotong in the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic as "grossly unfair".

Li was penalised two shots on the 72nd hole after allegedly being lined up by his caddie on the green.

It dropped the defending champion from a tie for third to a tie for 12th

The penalty cost the Chinese world number 44 $90,540 (£68,754) in prize money.

While Pelley believes the decision was correct, he is unhappy that referees cannot use their discretion.

"Everyone I have spoken to about this believes, as I do, there was no malice or intent from Li Haotong, nor did he gain any advantage from his, or his caddie's split-second actions," Pelley said.

"Therefore the subsequent two-shot penalty was grossly unfair in my opinion."

Pelley says he has already addressed the matter with the game's governing body

"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," he added.

"It is my strong belief, however, the fact there is no discretion available to our referees when implementing rulings such as this is wrong and should be addressed immediately.

"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 an R&A statement, Slumbers said: "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.

"Whether the player intends to be lined up is not the issue.

"We appreciate that it was a very unfortunate situation 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."

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