What Does A Mulligan In Golf Mean

Golf is a sport that dates back centuries, with the modern game emerging in Scotland in the 15th century. As a sport that relies heavily on individual skill and performance, golf has developed its own unique terminology and traditions over the years. One of the most well-known golf terms is the “mulligan” – but what exactly does it mean and how is it used in the game? This article will provide an in-depth explanation of the mulligan, its origins, purposes, and proper use in golf according to the official Rules of Golf.

What is a Mulligan in Golf?

A mulligan in golf is an extra stroke that is allowed after a poor shot, permitting the player to replay the shot without penalty. It’s essentially a “do-over” that gives golfers a second chance on a certain swing during a round. The term was first used in the early 20th century at Winged Foot Golf Club in New York by a Canadian golfer named David Mulligan. The story goes that Mulligan took a practice swing on the first tee prior to his opening drive in a club tournament. He hit the practice ball perfectly straight down the fairway, but then on his actual tee shot, the ball went off course. Wishing he could count the first shot, he re-teed and replayed the stroke, calling it a “correction shot” or “mulligan” after his own name. The practice soon spread and the term stuck.

How a Mulligan Works

A mulligan allows a golfer to re-hit their previous stroke without counting the first errant shot towards their score. It’s an unofficial “do-over” that gives golfers some leeway to recover from a bad swing. Here is the basic process for taking a mulligan during a round of golf:

  • Golfer hits original shot that goes poorly off course, into hazards, etc.
  • Golfer declares intention to take a mulligan and re-hits the shot, aiming to improve the result.
  • The first poor shot is not counted towards the player’s total strokes and score. Only the re-hit mulligan shot counts.
  • The golfer proceeds to take their next stroke as normal from wherever the mulligan shot ended up.

Mulligans are usually only allowed on the tee shot for each hole, since that is often the most difficult stroke. Golfers will have to live with any subsequent bad shots during the remainder of the hole. Typically only one mulligan is granted per player per hole to keep scores somewhat accurate. The idea is it grants some grace for one tee mistake without destroying the integrity of the full round score.

Key Purposes and Uses of Mulligans

While mulligans are not officially sanctioned in the Rules of Golf, they are widely used in casual play, club tournaments, and charity events for a variety of key purposes:

Warming Up: Mulligans allow golfers to take a practice swing on the tee box to warm up before striking the shot that will count towards their score. This can help nervous amateurs on the first tee or golfers who just need a swing or two to loosen up.

Relieving Pressure: Mulligans take pressure off the first tee shot, allowing golfers to relax, knowing they have a second chance if the first swing goes awry. This makes the game more fun and enjoyable.

Speeding Up Play: Mulligans allow groups to keep pace of play steady if someone hits a poor tee shot. Rather than taking time retrieving errant balls, they can quickly re-tee and keep the round moving.

Accommodating Handicaps: Mulligans give high handicap players a break and keep the game competitive when playing with low handicaps who rarely make mistakes. It helps even the playing field.

Weather Conditions: If the weather is poor – such as rain, wind, cold – a mulligan allows golfers to re-do swings affected by the elements.

Charity Events: Mulligans are common during charity tournaments to allow players of all skill levels to participate and support good causes.

Proper Protocol and Rules for Using Mulligans

While mulligans are ingrained in the game at this point, there are unofficial rules and etiquette guidelines for their fair use:

  • Limit to 1 Mulligan per Player per Hole: More than 1 mulligan per hole would be excessive. Golfers shouldn’t abuse the privilege.
  • Allow Only on the Tee Shot: Mulligans are customarily only allowed on tee shots to start each hole, not later approach shots.
  • Announce Intention Clearly: Golfers should declare “mulligan” loudly so all players are aware before re-hitting the shot.
  • Don’t Practice Swing First: Some limit mulligans so the re-hit shot immediately follows the poor shot with no practice swing in between.
  • Replay from Original Spot: Mulligan shot should be made from the exact same tee box spot, not moved to improve the lie.
  • Concede Strokes Over Par: If the tee is a par 4, a player who takes a mulligan and makes par should mark down a 5 on the scorecard to reflect the extra stroke taken.
  • Agree Before the Round: Usage of mulligans should be agreed upon by all players in the group before teeing off.
  • Not Permitted in Official Competitions: Mulligans are forbidden in professional tournaments or events where scores must be fully legitimate.

Following these guidelines helps ensure mulligans are used respectfully and reasonably during a round where golfers of different abilities are participating.

Why Mulligans Are Not Officially Part of Golf Rules

While the practice of mulligans is widely embraced in casual play, they are not officially recognized in the Rules of Golf overseen by the governing bodies of the sport (USGA, R&A). There are a few reasons why mulligans remain unofficial:

  • Maintaining Integrity of Scores: Allowing free re-dos of poor shots would undermine the purpose of scoring and make handicaps meaningless.
  • Prevents Potential Abuse: Mulligans could be over-used or taken advantage of if made officially permissible.
  • Changes Fundamental Nature of Game: Golf is meant to be a test of skill during a round – mulligans allow golfers to escape consequences of mistakes.
  • Not Practical in Competitions: Tournaments with many players cannot afford delays or confusion caused by everyone freely re-hitting shots.
  • Need Consistent Set of Rules: An official sport needs consistent rules across all levels rather than loose exceptions made for casual play.
  • Doesn’t Align with Spirit of Game: Golfers are expected to display integrity, honesty and perseverance in recovering from errors.

So while mulligans serve a purpose in friendly games, officials seek to maintain golf as a true test of skill at the highest levels by not writing them into the formal rules system. They remain an optional, casual practice.


The mulligan remains one of the most popular unwritten traditions in golf that provides a “get out of jail free” stroke to quickly recover from a poor tee shot. Allowing one mulligan per player per hole helps make the game more fun and relaxing for amateur golfers while also speeding up play. But overuse or misuse of mulligans can undermine the integrity of the game, which is why they are limited to informal play. While the original David Mulligan likely never dreamed his spur-of-the-moment idea would become so deeply ingrained in golf culture, the mulligan remains a unique quirk of the game that helps make golf more accessible and enjoyable for all skill levels.

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