What Is A Mulligan In Golf: A Closer Look

Ever wondered what a mulligan is in golf? Simply put, a mulligan is a do-over, a second chance given to a golfer to replay a poor shot.

Imagine you're teeing off and your first swing sends the ball off into the trees.

That's when a mulligan comes in handy! It's like a reset button for that disappointing shot.

Now, while this explanation is pretty straightforward, there's actually a lot more to mulligans than just a simple do-over. Intrigued?

Keep reading as we delve deeper into the history, rules, and intriguing debates surrounding mulligans in the fascinating world of golf.

History of the Mulligan

Ah, the mulligan – golf's version of a second chance!

But where did this term come from, and how did it become a part of golfing vernacular?

Let's dig into the intriguing backstory of the mulligan.

Origin Stories of the Mulligan

Interestingly, the mulligan isn't as much an official rule as it is a tradition borne out of friendly, casual play.

It's a product of the sport's social nature and the empathy golfers feel when a mate shanks his first shot off the tee.

But the origin of the term “mulligan” is steeped in mystery and lore, with a few different narratives in the mix.

One popular story traces back to a Canadian golfer, David Bernard Mulligan.

In the 1920s, Mulligan, a hotelier by trade, was known to drive his friends to the St. Lambert Country Club in Montreal.

One day, jittery from a rough and rushed drive to the course, he fluffed his first tee shot. In an act of frustration, he re-teed and hit again.

When asked about this, he called it a “correction shot,” but his friends started referring to it as a “mulligan.”

A different tale hails from New Jersey in the 1930s.

A locker room attendant named John A. Buddy” Mulligan would often finish his shift and play golf with the club's assistant pro and a reporter.

One day, after hitting a poor first shot, he replayed it, declaring it a mulligan.

The reporter later used the term in his articles, and it gradually became widespread.

How the Mulligan Got its Name

Despite the varying origin stories, it's clear that the term “mulligan” comes from a common Irish surname.

It seems fitting that in Irish parlance, mulligan means “mill worker,” suggesting someone working and reworking the same task.

In the context of golf, it's become a playful term for reworking a shot.

It's also worth mentioning that while the term is casually accepted, it has not been officially adopted into the rulebook of golf.

The mulligan is a product of golf's camaraderie and the understanding that everyone has off moments they'd like to erase.

And it's precisely this spirit that keeps the tradition of the mulligan alive in golf culture, even if the stories of its origin may differ.

The Rules Around Mulligans

The mulligan is a unique element of golf, full of charm and ambiguity.

Yet, it also raises some questions: When can a mulligan be used? Is it even legal?

Let's look at the specifics around the use of mulligans in golf and how the rules differ between casual and professional play.

When Can a Mulligan Be Used?

In casual, non-competitive play, a mulligan is most commonly used on the first tee shot of the round.

That is, if a golfer hits a poor shot to start the game, they can declare a mulligan, re-tee the ball, and try again.

This practice essentially erases the initial blunder as though it never happened.

However, the specifics can vary widely depending on local customs and the agreement among the players.

Some groups might allow a mulligan on any hole, not just the first.

Some might allow one mulligan per nine holes.

In other words, when and how a mulligan can be used is typically governed more by the golfers' agreement than any hard-and-fast rule.

Is a Mulligan Legal Under the Rules of Golf?

In official terms, the mulligan does not exist in the Rules of Golf as determined by golf's governing bodies, the United States Golf Association (USGA) and The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A).

In competitive play, replaying a shot without penalty due to a poor outcome, as in the case of a mulligan, is considered contrary to the fundamental principles of the game.

As per the rules, each stroke counts, and players are expected to play the ball as it lies, regardless of the quality of the shot.

However, it's worth noting that the rules do provide for certain instances of replaying a shot without penalty, such as when a ball is accidentally moved on the putting green.

Casual Play vs. Professional Play: Differences in Mulligan Rules

In casual play, mulligans are a common concession to keep the game enjoyable and stress-free.

Golfers might agree on the number of mulligans allowed per round, which holes they can be used on, and so on.

The key thing here is that all players should agree to the terms before the round begins.

In professional play, however, mulligans simply do not exist.

Every stroke counts, and players must deal with the consequences of their bad shots.

In tournament or competitive play, using a mulligan would result in disqualification.

The Mulligan in Tournament Play

Let's talk about mulligans and tournament play.

We've established that mulligans aren't officially part of golf's rulebook, but has that always been the case? Have there been instances where they've made an appearance in professional play?

Let's explore this further.

Instances Where Mulligans Were Used in Tournaments

Historically, mulligans have not found their way into professional tournaments due to the rigid adherence to the official rules of golf.

In professional play, each stroke counts and there are penalties associated with do-overs, so mulligans as we know them don't really have a place in this setting.

However, there have been charity events and pro-am tournaments where mulligans were used as part of the fun.

For example, in certain charity tournaments, players can buy mulligans as a way to raise additional funds.

But it's crucial to note that these are exceptions rather than the rule and they usually happen in a more relaxed, non-competitive environment.

The Controversy and Debates Surrounding Mulligans in Professional Golf

Given their absence in official golf rules, mulligans have stirred up quite a bit of discussion in the golfing community.

On one hand, some argue that mulligans go against the nature of golf as a game of skill, precision, and dealing with the challenges as they come.

They believe that, in professional golf, there's no room for mulligans.

On the other hand, some people argue for a more forgiving view, citing that mulligans could make the game more engaging and less punishing, especially for those new to professional golf.

However, these are minority voices, and the consensus remains that mulligans don't belong in tournament play.

Nevertheless, while mulligans may not be present in professional tournaments, they continue to be a cherished part of casual golf games.

They represent a spirit of generosity, camaraderie, and an acknowledgment that we all occasionally need a do-over.

Mulligan Variations

Just like golf itself, the mulligan has its own set of variations.

While the core concept stays the same – a chance for a do-over – some unique twists are used in different circles.

Let's delve into these mulligan variations and see what they bring to the table.

Understanding the “Irish Mulligan”

The “Irish Mulligan” takes the mulligan concept and gives it a Celtic twist.

According to this variation, an “Irish Mulligan” is an extra shot that can be used at any time during a round of golf, not just on the first tee.

However, the catch is that if you decide to take an Irish Mulligan, you have to play the second ball, even if it's worse than your original shot!

It adds a layer of risk and excitement to the idea of the do-over, making the player weigh their options before deciding to replay a shot.

Explanation of a “Breakfast Ball”

Have you heard of a “Breakfast Ball?” It's another fun variation of the mulligan.

The term is often used for early morning rounds of golf, where players may not be fully warmed up or might still be shaking off the sleep.

A “Breakfast Ball” allows golfers to retake their first shot of the day, much like a traditional mulligan.

However, it's usually limited to the first shot of the day, reinforcing its link to those early morning tee times.

Other Variations and Informal Rules

The spirit of the mulligan has inspired several other informal rules and allowances in the game of golf.

Here are a few:

  1. The “Later Gator” or “Back Nine Mulligan”: Some groups allow a mulligan to be taken at the start of the back nine holes, offering a bit of relief midway through the round.
  2. The “Sandbagger's Mulligan”: This is a term used when a player consistently scores below their established handicap and suddenly decides to take a mulligan, usually to the chagrin of their playing partners.
  3. “Mulligan Stew”: In some casual groups, any form of mulligan, do-over, or even a change in scorekeeping is humorously referred to as a “Mulligan Stew.” It's a nod to the idea that, in the end, golf is a game to be enjoyed and not taken too seriously.

Mulligans and Golf Etiquette

The mulligan, as we know, is a time-honored tradition in casual golf.

It's not just about replaying a poor shot, but also about the etiquette surrounding its use.

So, when is it appropriate to offer a mulligan, and what are the unspoken rules in friendly games?

Let's get into it.

When is it Appropriate to Offer a Mulligan?

The appropriateness of offering a mulligan often depends on the tone and competitiveness of the game.

In a friendly, non-competitive round, it's generally acceptable to offer a mulligan to a fellow player who has had an unfortunate first shot.

The idea is to keep the game fun and enjoyable, rather than placing undue pressure on every swing.

It's particularly common to offer a mulligan on the first hole, as players might still be warming up or shaking off their nerves.

If a player's first swing sends the ball veering wildly off course, it's often seen as a friendly gesture to offer them a mulligan.

However, it's crucial to ensure that all players are on the same page about mulligans before the round begins.

If one player is under the impression that mulligans are not allowed, it could lead to confusion or even conflict.

The Unspoken Rules Around Mulligans in Friendly Games

Mulligans in friendly games come with their own set of unspoken rules, all rooted in maintaining a fair and enjoyable atmosphere.

Here are a few of these tacit understandings:

  1. Mutual Agreement: Before the game starts, it's usually best to agree on whether mulligans will be allowed, and if so, how many. This ensures everyone knows what to expect and plays by the same rules.
  2. Limited Use: Even in friendly games, mulligans are typically limited to prevent abuse of the “do-over” privilege. It's common to allow one mulligan per nine holes or one per round, for example.
  3. First Shot Only: Often, mulligans are restricted to the first shot on each hole or the first shot of the game. This rule helps keep the game moving and prevents excessive delays.
  4. No Advantage: The unspoken rule is that a mulligan should not provide a strategic advantage. It's meant to erase a genuinely poor shot, not to give a player a second chance at a risky or ambitious play.

The Importance of Mulligans in Learning Golf

As you're getting the hang of golf, mulligans can serve as a kind of training wheel, giving you room to learn and grow in a forgiving environment.

They have a dual role in encouraging sportsmanship and enhancing the enjoyment of the game, especially for beginners.

Let's explore this in greater detail.

How Mulligans Can Be Used as a Learning Tool for Beginners

Learning golf can be a challenging process.

It requires the development of various skills, including strength, precision, focus, and strategy.

For a beginner, it can be disheartening to make a poor shot and not have a chance to correct it immediately.

This is where mulligans come in.

A mulligan offers beginners an instant do-over, a chance to immediately put into practice any adjustments or improvements without the wait of starting a new hole.

For instance, if a beginner golfer hooks their first shot into the trees, a mulligan allows them to adjust their grip, stance, or swing path and try again straight away.

By seeing the impact of their adjustments immediately, beginners can better understand what works and what doesn't in their technique.

They get a hands-on, real-time experience of how changes in their swing or approach can affect the result.

Encouraging Sportsmanship and Enjoyment of the Game

Mulligans also play an important role in fostering sportsmanship and enjoyment of the game.

Golf is a social sport, and for many people, the enjoyment comes as much from the companionship and shared experience as from the game itself.

Offering a mulligan to a fellow player who's struggling can be a supportive gesture, showing understanding and camaraderie.

It tells them, “We've all been there, don't worry about it.”

It can ease frustration, keep spirits high, and ensure that everyone is having a good time.

Similarly, accepting a mulligan with grace and gratitude is also an exercise in sportsmanship.

It's a way to acknowledge the goodwill of fellow players and to show appreciation for their understanding.


Wrapping up, the mulligan, while not an official rule in golf, remains a cherished tradition in casual play.

It offers players the chance for an instant do-over, easing the pressure of poor shots, and adding a layer of strategy and camaraderie to the game.

From its murky origins to its role in golf etiquette, tournament play, and learning the game, the mulligan embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and the joy of playing.

Whether you're a seasoned professional or a novice just starting, understanding the mulligan can enrich your appreciation for golf and remind us all of the game's essential purpose: to have fun.