Were the European Tour right to punish Haotong Li?
Haotong Li became the first high-profile player to be hit with a penalty under the 2019 Rules of Golf. His crime was his caddie supposedly assisting in lining up his shot. This is what it looked like..
— Brian McKinley (@brijon5555) January 27, 2019
No, says Mark Townsend
If you were an outsider to golf you’d find it a very strange existence as it is, then you get a situation like this where, seemingly, not one player, caddie or fan agrees with what’s gone on. Even Justin Rose stuck his head above the parapet and sided with Li.
Players being lined up for this, that and every other shot was a terrible process and good on the authorities for doing away with it but this is nothing like the previously drawn out process of line the player up, say a few soothing words, take two paces to one side and then pull up to a halt so the player can pull the trigger.
This was a caddie having one last look at the line of a closing putt that should have seen Haotong Li tie for third. The player, who would have avoided any penalty had he stepped away and started again, should have been given the benefit of the doubt, instead we were back in the dark ages of pre-2019 where the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of the game, is the bottom line.
It could have been used in the next rules meeting to demonstrate what could possibly go wrong.
To make matters worse he then, with the two-shot penalty, tumbled all the way down to T12 and lost £75,000 in the process. The caddie, Mike Burrow, will always be associated with this and the new dawn of the 2019 Rules of Golf has got the headline that we’ve all been waiting for.
All totally unnecessary and another unfortunate incident to go into the next listicle when discussing rules shambles.
No, says Steve Carroll
We’re not even a month in and the new Rules of Golf have already had their ‘Dustin Johnson moment’.
They were designed to simplify matters and yet that illusion has now been shattered.
The principle of Rule 10.2b (4) is sound enough. It was meant to stop caddies, more on the LPGA Tour than anything else, standing behind players and lining them up.
It states that “when a player begins taking a stance for the stroke and until the stroke is made…the player’s caddie must not deliberately stand in a location on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the ball for any reason”.
The problem for Li has been the term “begins taking a stance”.
If you watch footage of the incident, as Li starts to move towards the ball his caddie Burrow is stood directly behind him. As the rule stands, this is a breach. He had begun the process of taking his stance.
So it doesn’t then matter that before Li places his putter head on the ground, his caddie is well on the move.
Or that he doesn’t address the ball at first and, by the time he does, Burrow is almost out of shot on the TV pictures.
There will be plenty of you out there saying ‘rules are rules’ but is this really the scenario the R&A and USGA had in mind when they came up with this?
It appears so…
3/3 On the putting green, the player can back away from the stance to avoid a breach of the Rule. It was an unfortunate situation but the Rule was applied correctly.
— The R&A (@RandA) January 28, 2019
You would have thought they simply wanted to eradicate the act of basically placing players on the correct line with, in this situation, caddies only moving away when the putter head was behind the ball and the player was ready to go.
That’s not what happened with Li and Burrow.
As Monday progressed, even European Tour CEO Keith Pelley came out and said he didn’t like what had happened. That’s an incredible situation for a leader of a golf tour to publicly attack the rules makers.
Common sense stuff now from European Tour CEO Keith Pelley… pic.twitter.com/DPSg5BnAee
— Steve Carroll (@SteveCarrollNCG) January 28, 2019
So what are we left with?
After a largely positive response to many of the new rules, we’ve now got a pig’s ear of a position and a public relations disaster. A game that’s often decried for being pedantic is once again being hauled over the coals.
We’ve got everything, in fact, that the new rules were supposed to avoid.