What is a Mulligan in Golf? Everything You Need To Know

Where did it originate? Read on to learn all this and more. 

In this post, we’ll define what a Mulligan is in golf, and show a few examples of how the slang phrase ‘Mulligan’ is used, and provide several ways for getting started with Mulligans to get the best outcome. 

What is a Mulligan in Golf?

In golf, the term mulligan essentially boils down to a ‘do-over’ or a second try at a shot, after the first try has gone wrong.

Most golfers have taken a couple of mulligans in their time, in an effort to get the perfect shot.

So, if you’re down at the golf course, and hear someone refer to someone taking a mulligan, then you know that they had to have a few goes at something before getting it right. 

What is the Story Behind the Term ‘Mulligan’?

There are a few competing theories as to the origin of the phrase ‘mulligan’ to describe a do-over in golf.

They all revolved around the same two situations, both about a man with the surname Mulligan.

The first and more famous of the three stories is about an amateur Canadian golfer called David Bernard Mulligan. 

In the first story, Mulligan took a poor initial drive off the starting tee, and instead of just playing on with the round, he just re tees another ball and took another shot, telling his bemused golfing partner that he’d just taken what he called a ‘correction shot’.

This practice became widely known as ‘taking a mulligan’, despite David’s best efforts to popularize the term ‘correction shot’ instead. 

In the second tale of the term’s origins, Mulligan had a particularly bumpy drive to the course in the city of Montreal, which left him so shaken up and dizzy on the very first tee that his golfing partners allowed him to take a second, do-over shot. 

What is a Mulligan in Golf? Everything You Need To Know

To us, it seems like the first story may have the most truth to it. In a short interview with Don Mackintosh, a sports journalist at the Sudbury Star newspaper, that – 

One day, while playing in my usual foursome, I hit a ball off the first tee that was long enough but not straight.

I was so provoked with myself that on impulse I stooped over and put another ball down.

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. “What do you call that?” the partner inquired.

Thinking fast, I told him that I called it a ‘mulligan’ … After that, it became kind of an unwritten rule in our foursome that you could take an extra free shot on the first tee if you weren’t satisfied with the original.

Naturally, this was always referred to as ‘taking a mulligan.’

Are Mulligans Golf Legal?

No, as much as you might want them to be, taking a mulligan is most definitely not golf legal, and directly goes against all the rules of golf.

So, don’t be expecting to be able to use it in a competition governed by golf rules – as it is so illegal that the term isn’t even mentioned in the rule book. 

Typically, a mulligan may be allowed in a casual round of golf against friends, though it is often penalized by taking extra strokes.

A mulligan may be allowed after a ball is lost in a hazard, or in the out-of-bounds region. 

There is not really any kind of golfing situation where a golfer can replay or retake a shot, unless they have declared a provisional ball.

This is where a ball is played by a player, but they have reason to believe that it has been lost, and they won’t be able to recover it and take another shot.

This is different from a do-over or a mulligan, because a provisional shot has been designed to save time for all players, and not force a golfer to backtrack on the course to a shot they had already played, if a stroke and distance penalty has been called. 

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, a mulligan is a slangy golf term, meaning retaking a shot after a bad start or bad tee off.

We have covered their origin story, and their legality under the rules of golf. If you do have any further questions, don’t hesitate to let us know. 

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