European Tour chief Keith Pelley has admitted that the controversial two-stroke penalty imposed on China's Haotong Li at the Dubai Desert Classic was "grossly unfair".
However, despite widespread criticism from tour pros on the sanction, Pelley says that under the strict wording of Rule 10.2b (4), the decision made by Tour referees on Sunday was correct.
"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," he added.
Li (23) was penalised two shots on the 72nd hole in Dubai for breaking one of the new rules of golf, but many weren't happy with the interpretation.
He was playing in the final group and was lining up his short birdie putt, while his caddie stood behind him.
When Li was about to take up his stance the caddie, Mike Burrow, moved away, and he rolled in the putt to finish in a share of third place with a final round 71.
The European Tour deemed him in breach of the new ruling which prevents caddies from helping their players with alignment.
The penalty left him in a tie for 12th at 14-under instead of third at 16-under, costing him nearly $100,000, and saw many call out the rules afterwards.
1/3 To clarify any misunderstanding of the Li Haotong ruling, Rule 10.2b(4) restricts a caddie standing behind the player. It applies as the player begins taking a stance which includes when the first foot moves into position. pic.twitter.com/jpkYWMc943— The R&A (@RandA) January 28, 2019
The two-shot penalty ruling on Haotong Li at the Dubai Desert Classic has been labelled "ridiculous", a "disgrace" and "shockingly bad" by fellow Tour pros on the European Tour.
And Pelley admitted Monday: "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."
Rule 10.2b (4) relates to restrictions on a caddie standing behind player.
The player’s caddie must not stand behind the player for any reason when a player begins taking a stance.
Haotong could have avoided the penalty if he had backed off the stroke and retaken his stance. He did not, hence a two-stroke penalty applied to his score on 18.
Video of the incident shows what has been deemed a "harsh" and "marginal" ruling, and has seen tour colleague like Pablo Larrazabal asking for the new rules to be looked at as many claim Burrow wasn't trying to align him.
Such a tough day until i saw this lovely picture thank you Audrey❤️ pic.twitter.com/2LdJXkVELG— Haotong Li (@haotong_li) January 28, 2019
Matt Wallace called it 'ridiculous', Ross Fisher deemed it 'a disgrace', Eddie Pepperell felt it was "shockingly bad", and others called out the fact that slow play seems to still be allowed to escape the rules.
Former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinely called the sanction ridiculously marginal, and David Howell soon responded by calling it "utterly ridiculous".
Eddie Pepperell dubbed it a "shockingly bad" decision while Graeme McDowell called it "awfully harsh".