Player Reaction Mixed On Application Of New Rule
KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, SAUDI ARABIA | Judging by the extent to which it is still a talking point, we can rest assured that players and caddies at this week’s Saudi International will not be doing as Li Haotong did last Sunday at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in falling foul of Rule 10.2b (4).
Almost certainly, players will be taking a last-minute look at their caddies as well as the hole in a bid to ensure that they, the caddies, are well clear of what might be seen as the lining-up area. “And if they’re not,” said Sergio García, “they need to tell them to get out of the way.”
Trevor Immelman, like García a past Masters champion, is one of many still squirming at what he saw on the relevant video. To him, it was not clear that Li, a 23-year-old Chinese player who has won twice on the European Tour, had broken the rule at all. “His caddie was moving away and is looking elsewhere, while Haotong did not at that point even have his putter head behind the ball,” Immelman said.
“I feel so sorry for him. It wasn’t about the (money); what mattered to him was the drop from a share of third place to a share of 12th and all the ranking points it would have cost in a year when he will be trying to get into the Presidents Cup.”
— Brian McKinley (@brijon5555) January 27, 2019
Immelman added that while he had the greatest admiration for the R&A and the USGA, who preside over the game’s rules, he believes that the rules leave too many grey areas. He cited the anchoring of the long putter as an example. “Who knows,” he asked, “whether half the people using long putters are anchoring them or not? Someone wears a baggy sweater and you don’t have a clue.
“It’s not something that can be adequately policed, just as it’s never struck me as fair that the top players are scrutinised to a far greater extent than the rest and, as a result, are far more likely to fall foul of the regulations.”
The aforementioned García was less sorry for Li. The rule was the rule in place and, as such, it had to be obeyed. He thought it was similar to that situation in tennis, during the 2018 US Open final, in which Serena Williams was issued a code violation after the umpire ruled that her coach had proffered hand signals from the sidelines that constituted illegal coaching. (The umpire later docked Williams a point for a second code violation, smashing her racket.) It mattered not at all that Williams denied the illegal coaching accusation. The rule was that the coach could not coach.
Where García did feel for Li was insofar as that it had been an unfortunate way for the young man to learn a hard lesson.
“You’ve got to be careful because if you start making exceptions here and there, then where do you stop?” – Sergio García on rules administration
“I’m sure it won’t happen again because he’ll be careful what he does,” García said. “He wasn’t looking for any information from his caddie at that point but he should have turned round to check where he was.”
On Monday, European Tour CEO Keith Pelley issued a statement asserting that the ruling was technically correct under the revised rules that went into effect on Jan. 1 but bemoaning the lack of referee discretion in connection with such rulings. Given Li’s lack of malice or intent to break the rules, the two-stroke penalty he incurred was “grossly unfair,” Pelley opined.
Both Immelman and García were of precisely the same opinion when it came to whether or not Pelley should have spoken out on Li’s behalf. The two felt that the administration of the rules should be left to the appropriate administrators.
“It’s always nice for Keith to look after us,” said García, “but, at the same time, you’ve got to be careful because if you start making exceptions here and there, then where do you stop? When a player breaks a rule he has to accept that he’s broken it, even though he didn’t mean to. … After all, if I hit a ball in the water, I can’t have another shot because it wasn’t what I had had in mind.”
European Ryder Cup captain Pádraig Harrington told The Post’s Brian Keogh that even a local rule noting it would have gone unnoticed.
“If the referee puts on the bottom of the local rules sheet that your first-born child has to be sacrificed to the god of golf, I guarantee you there wouldn’t be four players who will come back in and say, did you see that?” Harrington said. “And look, the fact of the matter is, and I hate to say this, somebody had to take the hit for everybody else. If it didn’t happen to Li Haotong, it was going to happen to somebody else next week.”
In the wake of Pelley’s statement, the R&A issued its own statement from chief executive Martin Slumbers reaffirming that the ruling had been correct and advancing an argument that García echoed: namely, that a player’s intent is not the issue.
One can rest assured that competitors will have the Li situation in mind in the future. A repeat of this controversy, while possible, would be highly unlikely.
Haotong Li watches his tee shot during last year’s WGC – Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club. Photo: Aaron Doster, USA Today Sports
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