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Li Haotong loses 2 strokes, $100K due to new rule that restricts caddie help

Chinese golfer Li Haotong was penalized two strokes on Sunday during the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic under a new rule that prohibits a caddie from standing behind a player while he addresses the ball to help him line up a shot.

Li, the defending champion of the event, saw a birdie on the final hole changed to a bogey and his score of 71 to 73, dropping him from a tie for third to a tie for 12th behind winner Bryson DeChambeau.

The difference in prize money was about $100,000.

The new rule was one of many changes to the Rules of Golf that went into effect on Jan. 1. It prohibits caddies from standing behind the player to help them line up. Video shows Li's caddie walking away before the player stands over the ball, but Li was deemed to already have been in his stance.

The rule is 10.3b(3), which states a caddie cannot "deliberately stand on or close to an extension of the line of play behind the player's ball when the player begins taking a stance for the stroke and until the stroke is made.''

Video of the violation caused plenty of feedback on social media, as the violation does not appear obvious.

"This is so ridiculously marginal," tweeted former European Ryder cup captain Paul McGinley. "The player should be given the benefit of the doubt. The rules changes are largely about the spirit of the game & player integrity not this pedanticness...."

"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," European Tour CEO Keith Pelley said in a statement on Monday. "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.

"'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," Pelley continued. "Therefore the subsequent two shot penalty, which moved him from T3 in the tournament to T12, was grossly unfair in my opinion."

Martin Slumbers, chief executive of The R&A, then issued a statement saying that the governing body had reviewed the ruling 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," the statement reads. "Whether the player intends to be lined up is not the issue."

Slumbers said he understood Pelley's concerns but that "there is no discretionary element" to the rule so that it is easier to apply consistently.