Tee up another

10 reasonable rules for when golfers should take a mulligan


Mulligans, one of golf's most timeless traditions. You hit a shot, it didn't turn out the way you wanted it to, so you just go ahead and pretend it never happened.

A tradition mulligans may be, mulligans aren't, strictly speaking, legal. It's why you should tread carefully before you use them. Depending on the moment, a mulligan can either be entirely socially acceptable, or a frowned-upon nuisance.

To help you navigate the mulligan scene more seamlessly, here are some potential mulligan scenarios which I think most golfers consider fair use scenarios. Find yourself in any of these situations, and go ahead and drop another ball.

1. Breakfast ball (but only if you hit your first drive poorly)

Taking a breakfast ball is perhaps the best and fairest use of then mulligan, especially if you're rushing to the first tee without a proper warmup first thing in the morning. First on-course swing of the day, go ahead and take another.

There are only a few times I'd proceed with caution when re-teeing off the first:

  • If you hit a good first drive.
  • If you're being hosted and your host didn't say it's ok to take "two off the first."
  • If you've had a long practice session before your round.
  • You're the last golfer to hit and nobody else took a breakfast ball.

2. Missed short putt you tried tapping in but missed

You walk up and try to tap a two-footer into the hole but accidentally miss. It happens, so sure, scrape it back to its original putt and hole the putt properly, if you're trying to take things seriously. Just don't get too liberal with the length of putts you're casually walking up to. Just because you didn't try on that five footer, doesn't mean it was assumed you were going to make it.

3. Accidentally hit to or from wrong spot on unfamiliar course

New courses are confusing, and sometimes, that confusion can lead to accidents. You hit from the incorrect tee markers, or towards the wrong green, or down a fifth hole's fairway instead of the 10th hole's. I once saw someone pull a driver and slam a drive 100 yards over the green on a par-3, because he didn't see the pin and thought it was a par 4. Go ahead, tee up another.


4. Damaged golf ball you didn't notice

You may have seen that scuff mark on the ball and thought nothing of it. But then you hit the ball, it makes a strange sound and dives out of the air like a wounded duck. Damaged ball, hit a new one.

5. 18th hole during a bad round

You've been struggling all day, and your only goal is to find something for your next round. Last drive of the day, another bad shot, take the opportunity to take a pity mulligan. We've all been there. We get it.

6. First putt on fast greens

Now we're starting to push it, but look, often practice putting greens aren't as fast as the ones on the course. If you arrive at the first green having no idea what the greens are, take the temperature in the room among your playing partners. There may be a mulligan opportunity.

7. Weird distraction in backswing

Maybe it was someone else's sneeze, or a cart backfiring, or a car on the road thinking it'd be funny if he honked his horn in your backswing. With the caveat that I wouldn't play this card more than once a round, it's an acceptable mulligan opportunity.


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8. Drastic foot slip during swing

Again, don't be the golfer who starts making this a habit, but your feed sliding out from under you isn't a true showcasing of your skill. I'm a nice guy, take another.

9. Animal interference

So your ball is rolling towards the hole, and then a bird or dog or some other animal disrupts it? I don't know if that ball was actually going to go in the hole, but either way, I can't think of many better 'just hit another' opportunities.

10. Annoying phone call

Sometimes, real life beckons. Maybe it's from home, or your boss needs something urgent. If there's a phone call you have to take during a low stakes round, take the call, then hit another.