What is a Mulligan?

A mulligan in golf is a term used to describe a shot retaken without a penalty. Golfers who call a mulligan will use it when their previous shot was a poor one without adding an extra stroke to their round.

The mulligan is not a valid rule in a professional game of golf, but at many tournaments namely charity events it is possible to purchase a mulligan before the round is underway.

You can also use the mulligan in social games of golf, where all golfers in the group agree to the terms of a mulligan before the round begins. It is widely accepted that 1 mulligan be used per 9 holes of the round. It’s a loose rule which can be used by the golfer however they see fit, you don’t have to stick to 1 per 9 if you don’t want to. However, be sure to fairly reflect this in your scores.

So, now you know what a mulligan is, the next question must be…

What is the origin of the expression “mulligan”?

This is the fun part and the answer is, of course, nobody is quite sure.

It is arguably one of the few sports terms believed to be named after a person, and with ramifications outside golf and into politics and daily life.

Of course, the rules of golf forbid the Mulligan, though it has become part of the game. Some golfers apply their own “rules” that the Mulligan will be in “play” once per round, or just on the first tee, for example.

So, where and when did the Mulligan begin in golf?

The USGA, supported by research by GriffGolf.com, found the Mulligan became rooted in the game’s lexicon sometime between the late 1920s and mid-1930s. During that period, Canadian-born amateur David Bernard Mulligan had established himself as a prominent member of clubs that included Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

In the late 1920s, Mulligan had a regular club foursome, which he often drove to the course in a 1920s vintage Briscoe, a touring car.

Once on the first tee, the story goes, his partners allowed him to hit a second ball after mishitting his drive. Mulligan complained that his hands were still numb after driving over rough roads and a bumpy Queen Victoria Jubilee Bridge (now Victoria Bridge).

Mulligan joined Winged Foot Golf Club sometime between 1932 and 1933. A generation later, in July 1985, journalist Don Mackintosh interviewed Mulligan for a column, “Around the Sport Circuit.”

Mulligan said: “I was so provoked with myself that, on impulse, I stooped over and put down another ball. The other three looked at me with considerable puzzlement, and one of them asked, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m taking a correction shot,’ I replied.”

His playing partner asked what he called that.

“Thinking fast, I told him that I called it a ‘Mulligan.’ They laughed and let me play a second ball. After the match, which Mulligan and Spindler won by one point, there was considerable discussion in the clubhouse about that free shot.

“It all worked out amicably enough, but after that it became an unwritten rule in our foursome that you could take an extra shot on the first tee if you weren’t satisfied with your original. Naturally, this was always referred to as ‘taking a Mulligan.’ From that beginning, I guess the practice spread, and the name with it.”

Another possible origin of the expression is this.

John A. “Buddy” Mulligan, a locker room attendant in the 1930s at Essex Fells CC, N.J., would finish cleaning the locker room and, if no other members appeared, play a round with assistant professional, Dave O’Connell and a club member, Des Sullivan (later golf editor of The Newark Evening News).

One day, Mulligan’s opening tee shot was bad and he beseeched O’Connell and Sullivan to allow another shot since they “had been practising all morning,” and he had not. After the round, Mulligan proudly exclaimed to the members in his locker room for months how he received an extra shot.

The members loved it and soon began giving themselves “Mulligans” in honor of Buddy Mulligan. Sullivan began using the term in his golf pieces in The Newark Evening News. NBC’s “Today Show” ran the story in 2005.

Thus, a “Mulligan” found its niche along in our culture.

Do you allow a mulligan on the first tee at your club?

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