The History of the Mulligan - Golf's Beloved "Second Chance" Shot
The Mulligan - that extra stroke graciously granted in casual rounds of golf after a poor shot - has become a beloved tradition of the game. But where did this practice originate? The exact genesis of the mulligan is shrouded in mystery and folklore. Several fascinating stories and theories exist on how this famous "second chance" shot came to be.
What is it?
Simply put, a mulligan is an extra stroke allowed in informal golf after a poor shot, often off the first tee. However, it's origin remains a mystery! The origins of who, when, and how the mulligan entered golf history has been debated for decades. Several colorful stories exist with possible claims.
Theories on the Origin of Mulligans
David Mulligan - 1920s Montreal
The most well-known story credits a Canadian golfer named David Mulligan. As the story goes: In the 1920s, Mulligan was playing in a club match at Montreal's St. Lambert Country Club. On the first hole, he badly misplayed his tee shot. As a "correction shot", he re-teed and hit a second ball. Supposedly he called this extra shot a "mulligan" after himself, and the name stuck.
John "Buddy" Mulligan - 1930s New Jersey
Another tale points to John "Buddy" Mulligan as the possible namesake. In the 1930s, Mulligan worked as a locker room attendant at Essex Fells CC in New Jersey. When the course was free, he would allow players who hit poor shots to re-tee and hit again, calling them "mulligans. The term caught on at his club, spread, and Mulligan became linked to the shot.
Was it Coined Earlier?
It's possible the mulligan had been in informal use before the 1920s. Its origins may never be fully traceable. The earliest known newspaper mention of "mulligan" was in the Calgary Herald in 1932. But it spoke of it as already a known term.
Why Was it Named Mulligan?
David Mulligan seems the most plausible source given the timeframe of the 1920s. However, Mulligan was a common Irish surname. The term may have honored a different early golfer. Or it may have been a tongue-in-cheek Irish reference given golf's origins in Scotland. The Scots and Irish were frequent rivals.
Mulligans Become Accepted in Golf
By the 1940s, "mulligan" was a widely recognized term in American golf vernacular. It referred to any extra shot granted after a poor tee shot or approach shot. It was seen as allowing golfers a reprieve without slowing down play, especially helpful for high-handicappers.
Mulligans became ingrained in recreational and resort golf culture in the 1950s. Club and resort golf allowed lenient re-hits to attract patrons. The mulligan became ubiquitous with casual play.
Banned in Tournament Play
As golf professionalized, mulligans were banned in tournaments and formal stroke play rounds by the early 1960s. The Rules of Golf strictly prohibited re-hits in competitions. Stroke penalties were applied. But weekend hackers and average players continued taking mulligans. The practice was too beloved and fun.
Mulligans remain popular "second chance" shots for informal play and with beginners. They relieve frustration, speed up play, and allow the enjoyment of hitting multiple tee shots. Traditional rules often limit players to one mulligan per nine holes or per round. Some modern courses and events even offer a "mulligan package" for purchase with a round.
The true origin of the mulligan may never be settled. But it has certainly left its mark on golf tradition. Whichever story you choose to believe, it's a testament to how golf embraces fun, forgiveness and second chances.
So what's your take - was it David or John Mulligan who pioneered golf's famous extra stroke? Or another lost-to-history golfer? The genesis remains a mystery but the legacy lives on!