In the world of golf, where precision and accuracy rule supreme, who wouldn’t welcome a second chance at perfection? Welcome to the fascinating realm of the ‘Mulligan,’ a unique golfing tradition that turns a disastrous first shot into an opportunity for redemption.

Intrigued? Read on to explore the curious case of the ‘Mulligan’ and how it has ingrained itself in the fabric of this age-old game.

Understanding Golf Terminology

The game of golf, rich in tradition and complexity, has a lexicon that can sometimes confuse new players. Words such as ‘tee shot,’ ‘playing partners,’ ‘lost ball,’ and ‘provisional ball’ are terms that frequent conversations on the golf course. One term, however, stands out as peculiar and intriguing, leading many to ask: “What is a mulligan in golf?”

The Concept of Mulligan in Golf

A ‘mulligan’ in golf refers to a do-over or a second chance to act, usually due to a poorly executed first or ‘tee shot.’

Imagine you’re at the first tee, ready to make your opening tee shot. Suddenly, you hit a poor opening tee shot. Perhaps it’s the nerves, the wind, or your golf ball didn’t behave, but your ball sails off into a water hazard. Here’s where the concept of a mulligan comes in. The mulligan allows you to retake that errant shot without a penalty.

The History and Origin of Mulligan

One origin story credits the term ‘mulligan’ to a Canadian amateur golfer named David Bernard Mulligan. David Bernard Mulligan’s story goes like this: while playing a round at Essex Fells Country Club, he made a terrible tee shot.

In response, he simply teed up again and played a second shot, claiming it was a correction shot due to his previous shot being an unlucky shot.

Another version involves the term mulligan originating from a fictional baseball player from the baseball sports writing of Don Mackintosh, a sportswriter for the Newark Evening News in the 1930s. The character, known as ‘Swat Mulligan,’ was a player who would always demand a ‘do over’ after poor shots.

Rules Surrounding Mulligans

According to the official rules of golf, mulligans are not allowed. They are considered an unwritten rule, used predominantly in informal play or casual rounds among golf buddies. However, some clubs may allow one mulligan per round, often on the first tee shot, but this is a deviation from the rules of golf and is generally frowned upon in professional golf.

The Importance of the First Tee Shot

Your first tee shot of the day can set the tone for your entire round. Whether it’s a good or spectacularly poor shot, it has a psychological impact that can carry over to subsequent shots. Taking a mulligan on this first shot might give the golfer a sense of a second chance, even if it’s technically against the rules.

Mulligan: The Correction Shot in Practice

In practice, a mulligan is an extra free shot given after a poor drive or errant shot. However, it’s important to remember that while mulligans offer a way to correct your previous stroke, using too many mulligans can be considered a bad form by other members. Most golfers will tell you that golf is a game of long shots, rough patches, and second chances.

Differentiating Between Tee Shots and Mulligans

A ‘tee shot’ is any shot taken from the teeing ground, often using a driver or long iron, to begin each hole. The term also refers to the first shot in a match or competition. A ‘mulligan,’ on the other hand, is a ‘do over’ of a poor shot, unofficially taken without penalty, and is generally used to correct a poor tee shot.

The Impact of Mulligans on a Golfer’s Score

The impact of a mulligan on a golfer’s score can be significant. A mulligan nullifies the previous poor shot, allowing the golfer to retake the shot without adding extra strokes to their score. However, as an informal practice, it doesn’t reflect the golfer’s actual performance on the golf course.

Etiquette and Mulligans

Even in casual rounds where mulligans are allowed, observing certain etiquette is essential. For instance, asking your playing partners if they’re okay with you taking a mulligan is generally considered polite. Remember, just because mulligans are allowed doesn’t mean you should take one after every poor shot. A mulligan is traditionally used sparingly, and too many mulligans can disrupt the game’s flow.

Mulligans in Different Formats

The Mulligan rules can change depending on the game’s format. In some charity events, mulligans can be purchased, with the proceeds going to the charity. This way, you simultaneously correct a poor drive and contribute to a good cause. However, be wary that more money doesn’t always mean more mulligans, as the event organizers might set a limit.

The Mulligan and The Mind Game

Psychologically, mulligans can serve as a safety net for players, reducing anxiety and pressure. If a golfer knows they can take a mulligan, it may help them feel more relaxed, leading to better performance. On the flip side, reliance on mulligans can make a player complacent, and they may not give their all on their initial shots, knowing they have a “do-over” available.

Pros and Cons of Using a Mulligan

While using a mulligan can alleviate the pressure of a poor shot, it can also lead to habits of not taking the first shot seriously, knowing that a mulligan is available. Plus, it might create disagreements among playing partners if used liberally.

However, the pros of using a mulligan are that it makes the game more enjoyable and less frustrating for amateur golfers.

Mulligans in Professional Golf

In the world of professional golf, the use of a mulligan is almost unheard of. Professionals are expected to play their shots as they lie and deal with their actions’ consequences. It’s in the amateur realm where mulligans are most often invoked, providing a friendly way to combat golf’s inherent challenges.

From “Mr. Mulligan” to “Taking a Mulligan”

David Bernard Mulligan went from being an ordinary Canadian golfer to a central figure in golf folklore. His decision to take an extra shot on that day at the Essex Falls Country Club has transcended time and borders, influencing golfers worldwide. Today, taking a “Mulligan” is known as a do-over in many spheres of life beyond golf.

First Tee Shot: Pressure and Strategies

The pressure associated with the first tee shot in a round of golf can be daunting. It’s often seen as a moment to impress or establish your skills in front of the other members. Mulligans can alleviate this pressure, but players should ideally develop strategies to handle this pressure instead of relying on Mulligans.

Mulligans: The Unofficial Stroke of Forgiveness

Mulligans add an element of forgiveness to a game that is often harsh and unforgiving. Even the best players can hit a bad shot, but mulligans allow you to shake it off and try again. While it’s not an official rule, the mulligan is a beloved game part for many players.

Mulligans: Not Just a Golf Term

The term ‘mulligan’ has extended beyond the golf course. It’s often used in conversation to signify a second chance or do-over after a mistake. This widespread usage shows the influence of golf terminology on general language and culture.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mulligans

Q: How many mulligans can be used in a round?
A: While there’s no hard and fast rule in casual play, taking one mulligan per round is generally accepted, specifically on the first tee. However, the playing partners can agree upon the number of mulligans before the round begins. Mulligans are not allowed under the official Rules of Golf in tournaments or official matches.

Q: Where did the term mulligan originate from?
A: The term “mulligan” is believed to have originated from the name of a Canadian amateur golfer, David Bernard Mulligan, who, after hitting a poor opening tee shot, decided to take a second shot. This second chance became known as a “Mulligan.” There are a few other origin stories as well, but the story of David Mulligan is the most widely accepted.

Q: Is it acceptable to use a mulligan in a competition?
A: In official competitions or professional golf, using a mulligan is prohibited per the Rules of Golf. Mulligans are typically reserved for casual rounds or informal play where the stakes aren’t as high.

Q: Why is a mulligan considered a bad form in professional golf?
A: In professional golf, the game is about precision, skill, and mental strength. A mulligan, while offering a “do-over” for a poor shot, would compromise the integrity of these elements. It’s viewed as a tool for casual or beginner players to improve their enjoyment of the game, but in professional settings, it’s considered bad form because it’s not part of the official rules.


Understanding what a mulligan is in golf provides insight into the relaxed, friendly nature of the game.

Although it’s not officially recognized in the rules, it allows for camaraderie and a second chance in a game that can sometimes be merciless in its challenges.

However, it’s equally essential to respect the game’s spirit and not to overuse the privilege of the mulligan.


  1. Golf Digest: Mulligan History
  2. Golf Channel: What is a Mulligan
  3. USGA: Official Rules of Golf

Chris is an accomplished health and fitness writer with a strong passion for helping others optimize their physical and mental well-being. With a degree in Exercise Science and a diverse background in the wellness industry, Chris brings a depth of knowledge to his writing that is both comprehensive and compelling.

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