What is a mulligan in golf, and what does it mean to use one? Is it allowed?
Golf Culture

What is a mulligan in golf, and what does it mean to use one? Is it allowed?


In golf, golfers hit a lot of shots they wish they could have back. Some are particularly bad. Golfers have come up with a do-over of sorts, called a mulligan, that allows them to get another try at the shots they wish they could hit again.

What is a mulligan in golf?

A mulligan is a stroke in golf that is played from the same spot that a player hit their previous stroke, looking to re-do the prior shot without penalty. In other words, golfers use mulligans to wipe out the previous shot and consider it to have never counted. It's a do-over.

Are mulligans legal under the Rules of Golf?

Mulligans are definitely, absolutely not allowed under the Rules of Golf. If you're playing in a competition governed by the Rules of Golf, mulligans aren't allowed. In fact, that term is not even in the rule book.

In some situations where golfers might use a mulligan in a casual round, players have to penalize themselves with strokes instead of using mulligans -- including when a ball is lost out of bounds or in a hazard. There is no situation in which a player can replay a shot in golf without incurring a penalty except when a player declares a provisional ball. A provisional ball is played by a player when they have reason to believe the ball they just hit is lost or will not be able to be played from a penalty area (hazard). A provisional cannot be called just to try another shot again, but rather it is designed to save time and not force a golfer to return to where they had just played a shot if a stroke-and-distance penalty is called.

However, that doesn't stop golfers from using mulligans in a casual round of golf that they don't plan to count for handicap purposes. Mulligans can help speed up play instead of forcing golfers to chase for lost golf balls, and it can help golfers fix problems in real time on the golf course. So long as mulligans don't hold up the pace of play and flow of a golf round, they're find to use sparingly in a casual round of golf.

Mulligans are also used as part of a betting game called Mulligan-Recall, in which golfers are allowed do-overs a selected number of times in a round.

Who invented the mulligan?

There are a variety of stories that look to explain the origin of the mulligan.

One popular story attributes Canadian golfer David B. Mulligan as inventing the term. Playing at the Country Club of Montreal in the 1920s, Mulligan re-teed and hit another ball after a poor shot. He called it a "correction shot," but his friends named it after him. Mulligan then brought the notion to the US as a member at Winged Foot when he managed the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York.

Another variation said Mulligan created the extra shot because he was always rusty on the opening tee shot after driving over Victoria Bridge to Winged Foot. The last variation says Mulligan got an extra shot after oversleeping, rushing to the first tee to make his tee time.

A later version credits John A. Mulligan with inventing the term in the 1930s, when he worked as a locker room attendant at Essex Falls Country Club in New Jersey. Mulligan was playing with his regular playing partners on slow days when he asked them for another shot since he hadn't been able to practice before the round and they had. It became a regular practice that Mulligan told members about and they adopted with his name. Des Sullivan, who was a long-time golf writer and reporter, used the term in his job at the Newark Evening News.

Whoever invented the term "mulligan" has done golfers a tremendous favor over the years, and we're proud to use his name.


About the author

Ryan Ballengee

Ryan Ballengee is founder and editor of Golf News Net. He has been writing and broadcasting about golf for nearly 20 years. Ballengee lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family. He is currently a +2.6 USGA handicap, and he has covered dozens of major championships and professional golf tournaments. He likes writing about golf and making it more accessible by answering the complex questions fans have about the pro game or who want to understand how to play golf better.

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