What Is A Mulligan? A Deep Dive On The Golf Mulligan

It may take you several years of hanging around the country club to learn all of the golf slang. In fact, you may break 100 before you speak fluent golf!

Today we are going to focus on one of the most common terms you will hear.

What is a mulligan?

What are the rules?

When can you use one?

We will review the history of the term, and the different types, and even share some strategies related to the golf mulligan.

what is a mulligan in golf

What Is A Mulligan In Golf?

Quick definition.

A mulligan is when you hit a bad shot and decide to replay that shot without taking a penalty or adding a shot to your scorecard.

You might call it a “do-over” and no, it is not legal in the rules of golf.

Also known as a “breakfast ball”, a mulligan is often taken on the 1st tee after a bad drive.

Some players may see this as cheating, so you always want to check with your playing partners on their etiquette related to golf mulligans before teeing up a 2nd ball.

The best way to check is to simply ask on the 1st tee, “are we hitting two?”.

In other words, you are checking to see if they typically use golf mulligans if their first drive is bad. Many casual golfers use mulligans (first tee only).

what is a mulligan in golf

What Is A Mulligan? Where Did The Name Come From?

One of our favorite things about golf is all of the history and the different stories you will hear when you ask different people the same question.

You might think “what is a mulligan and why is it called that?” is a straightforward question, but there are actually several different opinions.

Based on our research, there are 4 different stories that explain the origin of the term mulligan.

3 of the origin stories star a golfer named David Mulligan who played in Montreal, Canada during the 1920s.

The 4th story ties the word to a locker room attendant named John A. ‘Buddy’ Mulligan.

what is a mulligan in golf

What Is A Mulligan? David Mulligan Story #1

Like most inventions, this story highlights that the “mulligan” was created out of necessity. Mr. Mulligan hit his first drive out of bounds.

He angrily grabbed another ball from his pocket and hit a second drive. He turned to his playing partners and said it was a “correction shot – don’t count the first one”.

David’s friends laughed at him and said they would prefer to call it a “mulligan”!

What Is A Mulligan? David Mulligan Story #2

The second story has to do with a bad drive, but not the type you are thinking of. In this version, David picked up his friends and drove them to the golf course.

On this day the road was bumpy and the wind was blowing, making it harder than usual to navigate his foursome to the club.

The group decided to give David an extra shot on the first hole as a thank-you for driving them to the course. The golf mulligan was born!

what is a mulligan in golf

What Is A Mulligan? David Mulligan Story #3

In this version, Mr. Mulligan overslept and had to scramble to the golf course to make his tee time.

As he raced to the tee, he told his playing partners he was going to hit two drives since he didn’t have time to “warm up”.

This sounds like what you might hear at your local club. “I am going to hit another one because I didn’t have time to go to the driving range”.

What Is A Mulligan? The John “Buddy” Mulligan Story

This one is almost too simple. John “Buddy” Mulligan played golf in New Jersey and was infamous for hitting a second shot and not counting the first one.

In his “honor”, other members started to call this process a “mulligan”.

All of these stories sound reasonable and we may never know the truth, but we suspect it involved David Mulligan.

what is a mulligan in golf

What Is A Mulligan? The Different Types Of Mulligans In Golf

Not all golf mulligans are the same. We believe they fall into two different categories. The “Breakfast Ball” and the “Captain’s Choice”. Let us explain.

The “Breakfast Ball” Mulligan In Golf

This is the most common form of the mulligan and the definition you will get when you ask “what is a mulligan?”.

This type of mulligan can only be used on the first tee. You hit a bad drive and take “breakfast ball” to hopefully improve on the first one.

You always want to ask your playing partners if they use this “rule”, but it is commonly allowed in casual golf.

In competitive golf, mulligans do not exist. You will never see Tiger ask for a “breakfast ball” on the first tee at Augusta National.

what is a mulligan in golf

The Captain’s Choice Mulligan In Golf

The captain’s choice format is perfect for charity golf tournament events with different levels of players.

If you are running a tournament to raise money for a charity, it is always a good idea to alternative ways to raise money.

One of these things you can do is sell Mulligans. Charge $20 per team and every player in the foursome gets one mulligan.

The difference between a “breakfast ball” mulligan and a “captain’s choice” mulligan is where it can be used.

The “breakfast ball” can only be used on the first tee (your first drive of the day), but a “captain’s choice” mulligan can be used anytime during your round.

Hit a poor iron shot on the 14th hole? Take your mulligan. Miss a short putt on #8? Take your mulligan. Make the putt on your second attempt and it counts.

The key is knowing when to use your “captain’s choice” mulligan. You want to try and save a stroke for your team.

accidental double golf hit

The Strategy Of Using Your “Captain’s Choice” Mulligan In Golf

We have answered the question “What is a mulligan?”, but now we need to explore how you should use it during a captain’s choice event.

In a Captain’s Choice (Scramble) event all 4 players get to hit each shot and you play the best one.

We are going to assume you have one mulligan per player, but some tournaments allow you to buy more.

After all 4 of the players hit their shot, you can decide to take one of your mulligans if you aren’t happy with any of the shots.

The key thing to keep in mind is that you want your mulligan to save your team a shot. You want it to turn a par into a birdie or a bogey into a par.

what is a mulligan in golf

For example, what if everyone on your team hits their drive out of bounds? It definitely makes sense to use one of your mulligans.

Assuming you haven’t used any of them yet, you will need to decide which player will use their mulligan. We recommend you use the player that is most comfortable hitting driver.

Typically, you want to save your mulligans and use them on the green. We would recommend you use one anytime all four players miss a short putt (less than 10 feet).

The other factor you need to consider is how many holes you have left to play. If you only get one mulligan per player, you don’t want to use them too early in your round.

Understanding the “what is a mulligan” answer and the “when should we use our mulligans” answer can be the difference between winning and losing your Captain’s Choice tournament.

Up Next: Learn More About Playing In Captain’s Choice Events!

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Ray has been playing golf for 35+ years, including being part of his High School and College golf teams. While he still enjoys playing in amateur tournaments, Ray now focuses on growing the game of golf through teaching and coaching. He has two sons that both play golf competitively and loves spending time watching them compete. Ray continues to play in local amateur golf events and currently has a +2 handicap.

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