The Mulligan in Golf: Exploring the Facts Behind the Term

By Todd Mrowice

Golfer looking for ball in water

Breakfast ball. Do-over. But most notably, a mulligan. Any casual round of golf can have a mulligan or two, but did you ever wonder where the word originated?

For a word embedded in golf lingo, you should have a little background on it. Here’s a little knowledge you can share with your playing partners. Perhaps after taking a mulligan?

Mulligan Definition

According to yourdictionary.com, “(golf) In informal play, a second shot given to a golfer as a substitute for a poorly played shot, for which the golfer is not charged an additional stroke.”

For example, here's how mulligans might be addressed on the course among your group.

Giving: “Sorry, John. I was ordering from the beverage cart in your backswing. Take a mulligan.”

Taking: “I have no clue what I was doing on that shot. Guys, I’m taking a mulligan.”

Are Mulligans Legal?

In short, no. Mulligans are not allowed according to the USGA’s Rules of Golf. That should never deter a group from allowing a mulligan here and there as long as it’s not a scored match and it doesn't slow down the pace of play.

How Mulligans Originated

There are several stories behind the term mulligan and how it came about. Some have been debunked, some are more folklore than others. The most credible origination, which is recognized by the USGA, dates the term to the late 1920s to mid-1930s.

David Bernard Mulligan, a Canadian amateur golfer, was a member at some of the most exclusive clubs throughout Canada and the United States. He also had a regular foursome that he played with. During a round at St. Lambert Country Club, in Montreal, Mulligan was unhappy with his opening tee shot.

Journalist Don Mackintosh interviewed Mulligan in 1985 and he was quoted as saying, “I was so provoked with myself that, on impulse, I stooped over and put down another ball. 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.”

Mulligan would go on to tell his playing partners that it was called a mulligan, and the group carried on. There was reported to be some financial settlement post-round based on their match, but all ended well amongst friends.

From there, the term mulligan began being used by his group, other members, other clubs, and so on. The term was unofficially coined after gaining so much popularity.

About the Author

Todd Mrowice is a Staff Writer for GolfLink. He has been writing about golf for over 10 years including a long tenure at GOLFChicago Magazine. Todd has covered all aspects of the game including travel, products, business, and professional tours.