Pádraig Harrington thought the two-stroke penalty handed to China's Li Haotong in Sunday's Dubai Desert Classic was "borderline" and "very harsh" but felt that somebody had "to take the hit" as officials work to make players aware of the slew of rules changes introduced on January 1.
"It was very borderline, but the letter of the law says, once you start to address the ball, the caddie can't be behind it,” Harrington said at the opening of the Spawell Golf Academy in Dublin, which re-opens to the public today under the management of Peter Lawrie, a former European Tour winner.
"It's tough luck. It is going to be a serious issue on the fairway. How many times do you see a caddie in the trees standing there, saying let me go out and have a look where the ball is going?
"If you are over the ball and he crosses across you, that's a two-shot penalty. No way back. He cannot cross across that path.
“I would ask the question, playing devil's advocate here, how many times have the players studied the new rules?”
Harrington is something of a rules savant but he knows from experience that he’s an exception.
"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?” he said.
"With Haotong Li, it was very borderline, it was very harsh, no doubt about it. But there is no way back if you start [to take your stance].
"I hate to say this, but 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."
The issue for the Chinese player was that he was playing in the final group with his every move monitored on television.
In that sense, Harrington understands why there was so much uproar over Haotong’s penalty and the fact that Bryson DeChambeau appeared to take an age over every shot without suffering a penalty for slow play.
“If he didn't win the tournament and he was finishing 40th, nobody would know," he said. "They did it with Jordan Spieth at the Masters two years ago. But if it wasn't Jordan Spieth, they'd have never shown it.
"There are other players taking two minutes, and the camera is just coming in five seconds before they hit it. But Jordan Spieth's conversation was interesting, Bryson DeChambeau's conversation was interesting. All these things will pan out.
"At the end of the day, if a player is slow it, will hurt him as he goes along in his career because he will be in contention and he will be on the clock.
“It's not a good thing. It is never a good thing. As much as they can be bullish, nobody wants to have a bad reputation. Slow players, it hurts their career eventually. There are information gatherers and people who are fast. Nobody is expecting information gatherers to play fast either.
“Everybody has to play within the rules. But slow players, they ultimately end up getting penalised for it, not in terms of strokes, but because they have to pay attention and do stuff. It is not their natural rhythm, so it catches up on them.”