Understanding Mulligans in Golf: Rules & Usage

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One of the infamous rules in golf is called the Mulligan. Be it a first tee shot or the last shot of the game; Mulligan is a rule that has been the point of controversy among golf buddies or playing partners in friendly games all over the world. 

Friendly is the key here, as any seasoned golfer will know precisely why Mulligans are controversial. 

Let’s find out exactly what it means!

What Is a Mulligan in Golf?

Before delving into what it means, let’s understand who invented it and where. Although all historians don’t agree on the origin, according to most and especially the United States Golf Association, this term was named after Canadian Golfer David Mulligan, a famously known face in the Country Club of Montreal. 

Multiple versions of the story exist, but the most common describes Mulligan getting a second shot because he was troubled by the rush to make it to his tee time.

There is also another origin story involving a golfer named John Mulligan, who worked at the locker room at the Essex Fells country club in New Jersey.

One morning after an especially bad opening tee shot, John Mulligan was allowed a do-over of the first shot, and since then, the members of the club started calling these re-do shots “Mulligans.”

So in a golf course, the term mulligan is best described as a correction shot or extra shot. After a poor tee shot, or in general, just a bad shot, when a golfer is allowed to take another hit from the exact spot of the previous stroke or original shot, it is called a Mulligan.

In casual play, Mulligans are common occurrences to many golfers since novice or ignorant players are blaming bad luck for their poor shot all the time.  

Sometimes Mulligans appear in provisional shots, and these are also called provisional Mulligans. However, the Mulligan must be approved by all members of the party.

Is It Legal to Use a Mulligan?

What are the legalities of Mulligans then? Actually, the rules of golf for sanctioned competitions clearly state that a “replay” is not allowed. So, neither Mulligans nor breakfast balls are allowed in a competitive golf match. 

As a matter of fact, in most official rulebooks, the word “Mulligan” as a golfing term does not exist. It does not matter if it is a first tee, a lost ball, or even a successful stroke; taking a Mulligan will instantly disqualify you in official tournaments; irrespective of your opponent’s agreement.

Even though players began giving themselves Mulligans in the 1920s, to this day, most golfers who play seriously will be offended if you even mention the word in a game with them. 

Atlanta-based Golf instructor Jon Tattersall famously said, ” A roving mulligan is just ‘taking the piss,’ as we say in England.” He further added that if you have to retake your first tee, you might as well be practicing instead of playing.

Even after all that, in a casual round, where the rules of golf aren’t that strictly followed, taking a mulligan or a do-over in the first tee shot of the play is perfectly common. 

Although you do need to have the basic integrity of asking your opponents before the first tee shots are played, and depending on the seriousness of the game, Mulligans are allowed until the golfer in question hits a playable tee shot or simply a good shot.

Another case where Mulligans are found very often is in charity events with celebrity golfers. Since all of these golfing events are carried out in a casual round style, organizers use alternative formats agreed upon by all the participants to make more money. 

As a general rule, they let the celebrity players play extra hits or Mulligans, but in return, the golfers have the buy the Mulligan. Depending on the events, these Mulligans are restricted to only tee shots or any shot throughout the entire game. 

In this way, each golf round works as a fundraiser for that particular charity, and golfers are incentivized to take Mulligans in turns where they hit the ball in an odd way.

How to Best Use Mulligans?

Since golfers use Mulligans as a second chance for a mishit, whenever it is allowed, it is in the best interest of the golfer to know the best use of a Mulligan. Typically, in most casual events, it is only allowed for tee shots, and for that reason, there is not much flexibility on how Mulligans can be used. 

If you hit the ball in an outlandishly poor position in your first hit of the game, it is a good idea to take a breakfast ball. However, always clear it out with your playing partners before the game has begun. In this way, you will save yourself the embarrassment of begging for a mulligan after the play has already started.

If you are playing in a competition, under no circumstances should you ask for a Mulligan as it would impact your golf score. Usually, those events strictly follow the rules of golf, and you will not be seen favorably among your fellow golfers.

Now, another obvious question arises. How many Mulligans are too many Mulligans? This question, however, cannot be answered directly. In our experiences, even when a group of friends indulge in a casual day of golfing, Mulligans are only limited to the first tee shot for each player. 

But we have seen examples of Mulligans being allowed for every shot of the game, so if you are a novice or just practicing, clear these things out with your fellow golfers long before the game begins.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many Mulligans should I take?

However, many of your playing mates allow you to take. Mulligans are already a subject that is absent from official rulebooks, and if you are taking Mulligans in a game, it solely depends on the goodwill of the other players.

Why do golfers use Mulligans?

Golfers use Mulligans because it presents them with an opportunity to rectify a bad hit. It is a generous practice that will help new players get better at the game while keeping the general tempo of the game low enough for everyone to have a good time.


If we were to boil down everything we said in this article into one single sentence, we would say that a Mulligan is a social golf scoring practice that, albeit illegal in competitive play, lets a golfer rectify their bad hit. 

A Mulligan won’t do much harm in a cordial scenario while providing crucial confidence boosters for novice or nervous golfers, overall creating a very enjoyable round of golf for everyone. The only rule in this regard is to always clear the Mulligan clause out with all the players before the first tee.