What is a mulligan in golf? Our helpful reader’s guide will walk you through the backstory of what a mulligan is and where its name originated. We’ll also take a look at its use in the modern game and the rules surrounding it. If you’ve ever played a game with someone only to have them call for a mulligan when they make a mistake, then you may have wondered what they meant. If you hadn’t heard of a mulligan before you might even have gotten into an argument about it.Mulligans are especially common if you play golf. The sport of golf is where the term mulligan came from. But what is a mulligan in golf exactly? And where did it come from?In this helpful reader’s guide, we’ll give you an in-depth look at what a mulligan is, the rules surrounding it, and the stories about the origin of the term.
What is a Mulligan?
Simply put, a mulligan is when you get a second chance to do something after you’ve failed to do it the first time. Often, use a mulligan when the first chance they took was a mistake because of bad luck or something outside of the person’s control. In the name of fairness and sportsmanship, their opponent might allow for a mulligan.
But what is a mulligan in golf?
People use mulligans most often in the sport of golf. Part of this is because the name comes from golf. The other reason is that the sport of golf has many occasions to use a mulligan as the mechanics of the game are well suited to taking extra attempts.In golf, you would use a mulligan to take another stroke from the same spot as a stroke you just missed, maybe you didn’t send the ball far enough, or maybe you sliced it into the water. The reason doesn’t matter, because it’s an informal agreement the reason for asking or allowing a mulligan is arbitrary. It’s all about allowing everyone to enjoy the game and have good sportsmanship.The effect on the scoring in golf after taking a mulligan is that you would use the score from the second stroke as though it were the first stroke and you would ignore the result of the first stroke completely. Even though rules around a mulligan vary, people usually restrict the practice of calling a mulligan to casual play. This is the case because formal tournaments or competitions have rules against allowing mulligans. That includes whether the person you’re playing with allows you to use one.Mulligans aren’t allowed in tournaments because in tournament play you’re playing for score rather than just against your partner. If you and your partner allowed for mulligans, it might be fair to each of you, but your scores would be better than the rest of the field, giving you an unfair advantage. This advantage is especially true in leagues where your score from one tee date may carry over to another. People that allow or ask for mulligans in official competitions where it’s forbidden can be disqualified from that competition and even be subject to disciplinary measures in larger leagues.
But, you may be asking yourself, if they aren’t allowed in official play why are they so popular?
Mulligans are very popular in casual rounds of golf because they make the game easier and more fun. If you make a mistake and hit the ball somewhere where it’ll get lost, it makes the game faster because you don’t have to go looking for your lost ball. Even if you don’t have to go looking through the water or the woods for your ball, mulligans save time because you can just put another ball down and try again. The ability to just try again if you make a mistake also makes the game more fun because it reduces frustration. In a casual game, you want to try to have the most fun, and since your time on the course can be limited, you want to do as well as you can. It also helps as practice, the more chances you have to hit the ball the better you’ll get as well.Golf is a very precise game where every little part of your form matters when taking a stroke, so it can be thrown off by even little things like distraction, especially on more difficult shots like when hitting off of a tee.
Where the Name Comes From
The origin of the term mulligan is unclear, but there are some popular stories about how it came to be used.One popular story is about a man named John A. “Buddy” Mulligan. Mulligan was an attendant at for the locker rooms at the Essex Fells Country Club in New Jersey during the 1930s. The story goes that after he had finished cleaning up the locker rooms he would play a round of golf with two well-known golfers at the time, Dave O’Connell, who was an Assistant Golf Professional that worked on the course and taught golf, as well as Des Sullivan, who went on to become an editor for a golf magazine. During one of these rounds of golf, Mulligan took a bad shot and asked the other two to give him another try because they had been practicing all day while he had been working. They agreed to let him take the extra shot. Later, Mulligan told the story to others at the golf club, proud that he had been able to convince them to give him another shot, and the other members at the golf club began giving themselves mulligans after him.The United States Golf Association offers three stories as the explanation for where the term mulligan comes from. All are about David Mulligan, a Canadian who played Country Club of Montreal golf course in the 1920s. One version of the story says that one day he simply hit a bad shot, and then took another shot afterward calling it a “correction shot,” but the friends that were with him at the time thought it would be better to name it after him.A second version of the story says that his friends allowed him to have an extra shot because he was so shaky from a scary drive over a bridge on the way to the golf course. A third version of the story says that he was given an extra shot because he was rushing, having overslept for his tee-time. The use of mulligan is so widespread that people sometimes sell mulligan shots at charity golf tournaments.
As stated earlier, the only strict rules about mulligans are the ones that ban them from official play, but there are many informal rules about how and when to use them in casual play. These aren’t strict rules, because you use them casually. You can make any rules for the use of mulligans that you want as long as all the competitors agree on them. However, there are some commonly held rules that are the default for casual games on most golf courses. We have them here so you can know ahead of time.You can make any rules for the use of mulligans that you want as long as all the competitors agree on them. However, there are some commonly held rules that are the default for casual games on most golf courses. We have them here so you can know ahead of time.Among groups that allow for a mulligan to be used, if it can be used for any type of shot, then generally 18 are allowed per round. This is because mulligans are usually only allowed on tee shots because tee shots are known to be a more difficult shot, and it’s easy to put a new ball on the tee rather than try to figure out exactly where you took your last shot from.A variation on the use of mulligans is that they’re only allowed to be used on the first shot of the round. Sometimes multiple mulligans might be used for the same shot. In that case, each shot is given other playful names including:
It’s a good idea to discuss what the mulligan rules are in any game before a situation happens where someone asks for one, that way everyone knows what the rules are ahead of time, and you can avoid arguments.
The term mulligan has become so popular that people often use it outside of golf. This includes as a figure of speech and when playing other games.When used in speech, it’s come to mean any mistake that is allowed to pass without consequences. In other games, the use is similar, a mistake that is ignored and allows the person to redo the attempt.
So what is a mulligan in golf? At its most basic, it’s a term used after you’ve taken a bad shot and you want to have another try without affecting your score.So, the next time you golf or play another game, and someone asks for a mulligan, you’ll know the many interesting backstories to the use of the term.
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