A mulligan in golf is essentially a do over… a second chance after a terrible opening tee shot. Or really any shot you want to attempt again.
In a game like golf, where a bad shot (or sometimes spectacularly poor shots) are more common than good ones, they’re very needed. But who do we have to thank for the extra shot?
Let’s get into the origins and everything about “what is a mulligan in golf” now.
What is a Mulligan in Golf?
First, let’s define a mulligan. It’s simply replaying the shot you just hit without penalty… think of it like a second chance and more commonly happens in a casual round after a poor opening tee shot.
For example, let’s say you hit a terrible tee shot because you didn’t warm up and/or have some golf nerves. Instead of playing your second shot from the location of the first tee ball, you re-tee and hit again.
Hopefully, this shot is a lot better and much more playable. From there, you’ll play from the second tee shot’s location, not the first without penalty. While this isn’t allowed in the rules of golf, it’s much more common to happen for recreational golfers.
As Wikipedia states, “A mulligan is a second chance to perform an action, usually after the first chance went wrong through bad luck or a blunder. Its best-known use is in golf, whereby it refers to a player being allowed, only informally, to replay a stroke, although that is against the formal rules of golf. The term has also been applied to other sports, games, and fields generally.”
- A mulligan is one of the most commonly used terms among amateur golfers.
- Taking a mulligan means you are replaying the shot you hit with a “second chance” attempt.
- A mulligan isn’t allowed under the rules of golf in competition but common among recreational golfers.
Keep reading to learn more about the history of a mulligan in golf.
History of the Mulligan in Golf
So, why is a mulligan in golf actually called a mulligan?
It’s a good question that I don’t think a lot of people know the answer to. In fact, despite playing for 20+ years I recently learned the history behind another popular word in golf – fore.
Like many things in the history of golf, this term started as players would yell “Forecaddie” to avoid hitting caddies who were up ahead looking for golf balls. They eventually shortened it to “fore” and it’s stuck ever since.
So where did the term mulligan come from?
Unfortunately, it’s not as crystal clear as the term fore or other common terms like bogey. There are several origin stories of the word mulligan – let’s present a few of the most common (including three by the same person, one David Bernard Mulligan).
Mulligan Theory #1
The first theory about the origin of the term came from David Mulligan in the 1920s who played at St. Lambert Country Club in Montreal. Here’s what the USGA (United States Golf Association) said on their website about this version.
“One story says that the first mulligan was an impulsive sort of event – that one day Mulligan hit a very long drive off the first tee, just not straight, and acting on impulse re-teed and hit again. His partners found it all amusing, and decided that the shot that Mulligan himself called a ‘correction shot’ deserved a better name, so they called it a ‘mulligan.”
I have to say, a mulligan sounds a lot better than a “correction” shot as well. Re-teeing after a bad first shot now is almost common practice for a lot of golfers.
Mulligan Theory #2
The second David Bernard Mulligan’s story happened before the first tee shot. One day before a casual round he picked his friends up en route to the golf course and faced a bumpy drive over the Victoria Bridge.
Since the drive was so bumpy his playing partners allowed him to get an extra first shot of the day as he was the driver. So next time you pick a friend up before golf, make sure to share this story so you can hopefully get a breakfast ball on the first hole.
Mulligan Theory #3
David Mulligan’s final theory is one that is all too relatable for anyone who has booked an early tee time. As the story goes Mulligan arrived late to the golf course after getting up later than anticipated.
He didn’t warm up and hit a poor tee shot to start the day. Instead of accepting it he re-teed and played the second ball instead. Again, this feels very relatable if you’ve ever overslept or fought traffic on the way to the golf course.
Mulligan Theory #4
The final common theory behind the term mulligan was from John A. “Buddy” Mulligan. He was a locker room attendant at Essex Fells Country Club in the 1930s.
It’s said that during a round he was offered a “second chance” since his playing partners had practiced all morning and he had not. One of the members in the group was Des Sullivan who was a golf editor for a local newspaper.
In the coming weeks John bragged to fellow members about getting a chance to play an extra shot. Members enjoyed the term tremendously and started to allow themselves to have “mulligans” like John.
Eventually, Sullivan began to use the term in the news and it’s stuck ever since. With four origin stories that are all nearly 100 years old, it’s tough to say which is the right version.
Pace of Play Issues
Golf is a hard game – no doubt about it and mulligans can help. But at a certain point mulligans can also slow up the pace of play. If you’re taking one every hole or even every other hole, you will slow down the time it takes to play 18 holes.
Use them more in a casual round on certain tee shots vs. at a country club where pace of play is very important. Otherwise, you might not get invited back!
Some Tournaments Allow Mulligans
Did you know that some golf tournaments actually allow mulligans?
But there’s a catch… you have to buy them. You can’t just take as many mulligans as you want.
These tend to be the most relaxed tournaments that don’t follow the rules of golf like a scramble tournament. Taking mulligans won’t happen in more formal competitive events such as a member-member, qualifiers, or skins games.
A lot of times they’ll allow you to buy one or a pack of mulligans before teeing off. This is usually a cash purchase that goes toward a certain cause in the event.
If your group might need some help during the day, buying a few mulligans (or more) might help you out. Plus, the cash is going to a good cause too.
FAQs on a Mulligan in Golf
Do you have more questions about this common term in golf? If so, keep scrolling through our frequently asked questions and answers below.
What does it mean to take a mulligan?
Taking a mulligan refers to hitting the same shot or putt again – but acting like the previous shot didn’t happen.
How many mulligans are allowed?
Most golf groups allow a certain number of mulligans but it just depends on the group. Some might only allow one on the first hole, while others might allow one on each nine. Or, some groups might allow more.
It’s always a good idea to check with your playing partners before the day begins to make sure you’re all on the same page. Otherwise, certain golfers might get frustrated with others if someone is taking too many mulligans.
Can you take mulligans on tee shots only?
No, you can take mulligans on more than tee shots including approach shots, chips, pitches, and putts. But they tend to happen most on tee shots.
Does a hole in one count on a mulligan?
Unfortunately no, a hole in one on a mulligan technically doesn’t count as a true ace. Which is a shame because the odds of getting an ace are roughly 12,500 to 1! As you can tell, the odds are against you!
What is a breakfast ball in golf?
A breakfast ball is a type of mulligan that some groups use on the first tee shot of the day. Since so many golfers get first tee jitters, it’s a backup plan in case things go sideways (literally) on the first shot of the day.
What are some other common golf terms?
Golf has more terms and slang than just about any sport I can imagine. It’s not uncommon to hear the word shank, yips, chunk, skull, eagle, and snowman all during the course of the round. It can be like a foreign language for non golfers who are new or just riding in a golf cart.
Make sure to read our full guide of the most common golf terms here.
Mulligans happen a little bit more frequently the earlier on in your golf career. When you’re just starting out, mulligans can help you bounce back from bad shots and get that second chance.
But I’d suggest not depending on them too much if you want to start breaking 90 or even break 80 consistently. Not to mention you can’t use them in formal tournaments if you ever wish to play in them as well.
Final Thoughts on a Mulligan in Golf
As you can tell, the history of mulligans is somewhat of a mystery. But whoever came up with the term, millions of golfers thank them for allowing a few more “second chance opportunities.”
Mulligans are very much a part of this game as we all enjoy a second chance from time to time on certain shots. But that’s the key part – certain shots – not every shot or every hole. Otherwise, mulligans will slow down the pace of play and can ruin the round for others.
Use mulligans wisely or decide if each person gets a certain amount during the round. Or, if you can only use them on the first tee shot (aka, take a breakfast ball). This will help speed up the pace of play and avoid any potential rules confusion among your group.
If you’re playing in scrambles and your group needs some help to be competitive, don’t be afraid to buy some mulligans. Just make sure to use your designated amount and not more to stay integral in the event.