Golf 101
April 01, 2020

Did You Know: Where did the term 'mulligan' originate?

The Coronavirus pandemic has hit a giant pause button on fans being able to watch golf on TV, and in some cases, even kept people off courses. But while we hunker down and hope for a speedy return to normalcy, we can also use this time as an opportunity to learn more about the game we love. Here’s our latest installment of “Did you know?”

As the old saying goes, there are three sides to every story: your side, their side, and the truth somewhere in the middle. When it comes to the origin story of the term "mulligan," there are three sides, though no one knows for sure which one is true.

The basic definition of mulligan, a term most associated with golf, is a "do-over," a second try after your first has gone awry. Every weekend golfer has taken a few mulligans in their lifetime, and there's no shame in that. After taking said mulligan, did you ever stop to think where the word came from? Considering you likely just pumped one out of bounds, probably not.

There are a number of different theories about how the term was coined, all of them focused on two central characters with the last name Mulligan. We'll start with David Bernard Mulligan, a Canadian amateur golfer and hotelier who may have made the term famous in the 1920s.

According to the USGA, there are three versions of David Bernard Mulligan's story. The first is that one day Mulligan hit a poor drive off the first tee, then simply re-teed and hit another ball, telling his amused playing partners that he had taken a "correction shot." That "correction shot" soon became known as "taking a mulligan."

The second story is that the ride to Mulligan's course in Montreal was an extremely bumpy one, and the drive in left Mulligan so shaken on the first tee that he was allowed a second shot. This theory is a major hit to the "millennials are SOFT" argument.

The third story is a combination of the first two, that one day Mulligan, much like your most unreliable golfing buddy, showed up late to the course and was so rattled on the first tee that he needed to hit a second shot. Thus, "mulligan" was born.

Mulligan himself appeared to confirm these theories in a a 1952 interview with Don Mackintosh, a sportswriter for the "Sudbury Star."

“One day while playing in my usual foursome, I hit a ball off the first tee that was long enough but not straight. I was so provoked with myself that on impulse I stooped over and put another ball down. 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. ‘What do you call that?’ the partner inquired. Thinking fast, I told him that I called it a ‘mulligan’ . . . After that it became kind of an unwritten rule in our foursome that you could take an extra free shot on the first tee if you weren’t satisfied with the original. Naturally, this always was referred to as ‘taking a mulligan.’”

But in a detailed blog post on esnpc.blogspot.com written in 2017, the writer pokes a few holes in Mulligan's tale, further muddying the mulligan waters.

Then there is the tale of John A. "Buddy" Mulligan, a locker room attendant at Essex Fells Country Club in New Jersey in the 1930s. One day Mulligan was persuaded by a few players to join their game. Having been busy working all morning, Mulligan was not properly warmed up, and he paid the price with a poor opening tee shot. As legend has it, he turned to his playing partners and told them they got to practice all morning when he was working, so the least they could do is give him a do-over. They agreed, and word spread of the "mulligan" so quickly that other members adopted it for their games.

We may never know for certain where and when "mulligan" originated, which makes you think, could the story of the term "mulligan" use a mulligan?


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