Feb 19, 2024
POSTED BY: Nicholas Venditti

What Is a Mulligan in Golf?

You may have heard the term “mulligan” before in relation to golf and wondered what it meant. Golf has a lot of terms and rules to understand, so it's easy to get confused in the jargon. 

We're here to help clear up the confusion. In this article, we cover what a mulligan is, its history, and more.

Let's dive right in.

So, What is a Mulligan in Golf? 

A mulligan is basically a second chance. 

If you had an unfavorable tee-off, that's where a mulligan comes in. 

A mulligan allows you to replay the shot you just took without a penalty. Let's say your opening shot is terrible; instead of continuing from the location of your first tee ball, you can re-tee and hit again. Then, play from the location of the second tee shot. 

It should be noted that a hole-in-one on a mulligan won't technically be a true ace.

It's important to note that this is not a term in the rules of golf, but it can be done informally to have a do-over on a stroke. Mulligans aren't permitted in professional play or amateur competitions per USGA rules

Why Do They Call It a Mulligan? 

There are a number of theories as to where the term “mulligan” came from. 

One story is that a person by the name of David Mulligan, who played in Montreal, Canada, in the 1920s at the St. Lambert CC, hit a long drive off the first tee, but it wasn't straight. On impulse, he re-teed and hit the ball again. Amused, his partners called it a ‘mulligan.’ 

Another story claims Mulligan drove to pick up his golfing buddies in the morning, and the road was windy and bumpy. As a result, Mulligan was allotted an extra shot on the first tee due to his shaking and jumping on the drive. 

Yet another story involved David Mulligan being late and frazzled on the first tee. After hitting a poor shot, he re-teed. 

A more recent story claims a locker room attendant at Essex Fells CC in N.J. named John A. ‘Buddy’ Mulligan was known for replaying his shots. 

While the origins of the term are not well known, the term remains commonly used to this day. 

How Many Mulligans Are Allowed in Golf?

Remember that mulligans aren't part of the rules of golf, and it's done informally. The number of mulligans allowed depends on the group, and most groups allow a certain number - some only on the first hole.

It's best to confirm with other players before starting the day to ensure everyone is on the same page.

The Dos and Dont's of Mulligans on the Golf Course

Wondering what to know before you request a mulligan next time you're playing golf with your friends? Here are some things to keep in mind. 

When To Request a Mulligan

It's possible that asking to take a mulligan can cause friction among your fellow players. If you're playing informally, however, those you're playing with shouldn't have a hard time accepting a mulligan. 

If someone swings a shot out of bounds off the first tee, that's a good time to consider a mulligan. There are a number of reasons a golfer might struggle to keep the ball in play while they're hitting off the tee. 

A driver can be hard to hit straight, especially for less skilled golfers. A bad hook or slice can send your tee shot out of bounds, and that's certainly not a fun way to get your hole started. 

You also might be more stressed during the tee shot than later shots. Tee shots are when mulligans are most commonly used. Golfers may take a mulligan occasionally for long shots after their tee shots, but it's bad form to do so on or close to the green. 

The first tee shot of the day can be particularly stressful. Many groups will favor a “breakfast ball” or mulligan for this shot. 

Don't Take Too Many Mulligans

Taking too many mulligans can ruin the experience for some golfers. It can negatively impact pacing or be an issue if a group of players behind you is moving quickly through the course. 

In addition, if you're generally playing well, you probably shouldn't ask for a mulligan, as it could potentially give you an unfair advantage. 

There isn't a “correct” amount of mulligans that should be allowed, but it's poor etiquette to take more than just a few per round, particularly if using them is slowing the pace of the game. 

It's also best to limit your mulligans for your own sake. By playing with consistent rules, you can better track your improvement. 

Checking With Your Group: A Key Step Before Taking a Mulligan

It's essential to ensure the players in your group are okay with you taking a mulligan.

If you're playing casually, it's kind of nice to offer a player a mulligan if they hit a poor shot. This prevents them from needing to ask themselves. 

Especially if you're competing in any way, you'll want to establish how many mulligans are allowed before starting the round, if they'll be allowed at all. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Mulligans Only Off the Tee? 

Whether or not mulligans are only off the tee depends on who you ask! Mulligans are typically used when there's a particularly bad shot off the tee. Because mulligans are used informally and aren't part of the rules of golf, groups may come to different agreements on how they are used, so it's important to make sure everyone in your group is on the same page. 

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of terms in golf, and mulligan is a commonly used one that's useful to know. Make sure your group agrees on how mulligans may be used before playing! 

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