USGA rules Lucy Li can retain her amateur status after appearing in Apple ad

lucy li amateur golf John Meore/The Journal News

USGA rules Lucy Li can retain her amateur status after appearing in Apple ad

Amateur

USGA rules Lucy Li can retain her amateur status after appearing in Apple ad

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The verdict is in: The USGA has determined that Lucy Li breached its rules, but she is allowed to retain her amateur status.

The USGA issued Li a one-time warning Thursday, an outcome the organization says is consistent with its general practice for players who unknowingly breach Rule 6-2 for the first time and take appropriate remedial measures.

In early January, the 16-year-old appeared in an Apple Watch “Close Your Rings” advertising campaign. The USGA immediately opened an investigation into whether or not she had violated her amateur status.

Rule 6-2 states that “an amateur golfer of golf skill or reputation must not use that skill or reputation to obtain payment, compensation, personal benefit or any financial gain, directly or indirectly, for (i) promoting, advertising or selling anything, or (ii) allowing his name or likeness to be used by a third party for the promotion, advertisement or sale of anything.”

Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior managing director of governance, told Golfweek on Thursday the committee poured over decades of cases and in every instance in which an amateur unknowingly broke the rule, received no compensation and took steps to rectify the situation, the player received only a warning.

When asked if some breaches are considered more serious than others (i.e. a worldwide advertising campaign), Pagel said, “A breach is a breach regardless of where or how it appears.”

As for the six weeks it took to announce a decision, Pagel said it’s a complicated issue, particularly when dealing with a global company like Apple.

“It’s important that we determined the facts so that we could arrive at the correct outcome and not a quick outcome,” he said.

If everyone gets at least one free pass, what’s to stop another amateur from participating in an ad campaign and then claiming ignorance?

Pagel said the USGA doesn’t like to deal in hypotheticals, but that there’s a trust factor involved in all of this.

He also noted that in this case the video was up for less than five days.

“No benefit gained by Lucy,” Pagel said.

Though one could argue that while she didn’t receive compensation and the video was ultimately taken down, it did create a massive stir in the golf industry.

“I think this should be kind of a heads-up to everybody as an amateur to pay attention,” said Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam. “Especially in today’s world, you’ve got to be careful what you do. I personally don’t think you should take these things lightly. You’ve got to know the rules.”

Li, who gained notoriety as the youngest player to compete in a U.S. Women’s Open, is scheduled to participate in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur on April 3-6. She recently withdrew from this week’s Buick Shanshan Feng AJGA Girls Invitational.

In its statement, the USGA said Li was contacted by a casting agent for an acting assignment to promote the Apple Watch. “At that time, the nature of her participation was not defined and she was given no indication that she would appear as a golfer,” the statement said.

Li was filmed participating in a variety of recreational activities, including playing golf. The casting agent told her it wasn’t guaranteed that she’d appear in the final ads, and it wasn’t communicated to her how she would be featured.

According to the USGA, the Li family was made aware of the ad’s content on Jan. 2. The USGA notified her the next day that it was reviewing her amateur status.

“At that time, she immediately asked Apple to take down the advertisement in all its forms, to which Apple readily complied. On Jan. 11, USGA notified Ms. Li she had breached the Rules of Amateur Status,” the statement said.

“Since that time, the USGA has had several discussions with both Apple and the Li family and has confirmed that Ms. Li has neither received, nor will receive, any monetary or non-monetary (e.g., products) compensation for her appearance in the advertisement.”

The USGA said it took into consideration that Li is a minor and that this was her first breach of the rules.

There’s been considerable interest in Li’s case after she made a name for herself at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst, becoming the youngest to qualify for the championship at age 11. She holds the same record at the U.S. Women’s Amateur, qualifying at age 10 for the 2013 edition held at the Country Club of Charleston. This year’s U.S. Women’s Open will be held at the same venue.

Li was also the youngest player in the field at the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek, where she took a share of 55th at age 15. In 2017, she won the AJGA Junior Inspiration to earn an exemption into the LPGA’s first major of the season, the ANA Inspiration. She was the only amateur to make the cut that year.

A quarterfinalist at the last two U.S. Women’s Amateurs, Li is No. 8 in the World Golf Amateur Ranking. Last summer she became only the third player to earn medalist honors at a U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur in the same summer, joining Michiko Hattori and Vicki Goetze-Ackerman.

While she has yet to win a USGA title, Li has competed in 14 USGA championships and represented Team USA at two Junior Ryder Cups, a Junior Solheim team and last year’s Curtis Cup, posting a 3-1-0 record.

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