Was the Haotong Li Penalty Under Rule 10.2b(4) Correct?

A great controversy occurred during the Dubai Classic that does not want to leave the news cycle. If you did not see it, basically a professional golfer was assessed a two-stroke penalty for his caddie still being in his line as he started to set up for his putt. The penalty dropped Haotong Li from T3 to T12 and cost the player a fair bit of money (about €100,000 ($150k Cdn – $114k USD). However, that is the least of my concerns because if a golfer breaks the rules, they should be penalized. This is where the controversy stems – the interpretation of the new rule 10.2b(4).Here is what it looks like:

The rules governing the decision are very specific. Here is the exact rule:

(4) Restriction on Caddie Standing Behind Player. 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.
  • If the player takes a stance in breach of this Rule, he or she cannot avoid penalty by backing away.

Exception – Ball on Putting Green: When the player’s ball is on the putting green, there is no penalty under this Rule if the player backs away from the stance and does not begin to take the stance again until after the caddie has moved out of that location.

Many of the comments I read are strictly against the rule interpretation. They find that the ‘marginal’ call was ‘knit-picky’ and should be reversed. Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, fully supports the decision. It is designed to prevent the caddie from being behind the player at anytime once the player starts his set-up. It does not matter if the caddie intended to help the player or not, the caddie cannot be behind the player when they start their set up.

If you watch the video, the caddie is clearly behind Haotong Li when he started his address to the ball. The moment that the player starts walking towards the ball, in my opinion, then they have started their set up. Many players use a pre-shot routine where they stand behind the ball, pick their line, and start moving towards the ball. This is all part of their shot set-up and the caddie cannot be behind the player at all. I use this process myself and if I used a caddie, they would move to the side before I start moving towards the ball. This whole situation appears pretty clear-cut to me.

The next question to this issue is the time period the caddie stood behind the ball. It is clear that the caddie had intended to move off the line but was not quick enough. Slumber continues in the Golf Monthly article that, “Whether the player intends to be lined up is not the issue.” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley stated, “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.” 

So, if the rules are properly enforced; what is the problem? In golf, you either broke the rule or you did not. In this case Haotong Li did not wait long enough for his caddie to clear the area before starting his shot. I realize that I am in the minority on this issue, but the rules official was correct.

The real issue is that most respondents do not like the rule. Unfortunately, Haotong Li was the to be first penalized under this new rule. So, the rule officials were bound to lose no matter what.

I suggest it will take a year or two to update or change rule 10.2b(4) no matter how we feel about this rule.

Regardless of where you fall, we now have a benchmark to judge other infractions of rule 10.2b(4).

Given the backlash on social media, do you think the governing bodies will make a change or adjustment to the 3 week old rule?

I am a grateful golfer! See you on the links!

6 thoughts on “Was the Haotong Li Penalty Under Rule 10.2b(4) Correct?

  1. Well, I guess it depends on how you look at it. If you feel preshot routine is taking his stance, then the caddy/golfer blew it. But if you consider taking your stance beginning at placing your putter directly behind the ball (not beside it), then the governing body is wrong.
    Personally, I think they should adjust the rule in my opinion. This goes beyond what it is meant to protect against. Whether or not they do is anybodies guess though.

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    • Kevin,

      It really comes down to opinion on many factors. I have read the rule several times and it is really not that clear. I like the rule because it forces players to actually own all the shots they make. There were many times when a caddie would line up the player and I felt that was in the spirit of the game. It is an interesting topic for sure.

      Cheers Jim

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  2. After reviewing this numerous times, I think the “technical” call could go either way. To put into NFL terminology “the play stands as called”. However, I do not believe the call was in the spirit of the rule. The caddie was not lining up the player’s putter or lining up his body. In my opinion, he was just reading the putt, which is allowed. I think the rule will be modified at some point in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    • David,

      They may revisit the rule or at least the spirit of the rule. Intent is not a factor. If we started to bring intent into every call, then I am not sure we can enforce them fairly across the entire field. Too much of a judgement call by the players and Umpires. We already have players that will not enforce the rules or so they indicate. We shall see where the governing bodies go from here.

      Cheers Jim

      Like

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