One of the beauties of golf is that there are so many ways that we can play the game. Here at AMERICAN GOLF, we are going to endeavour to bring them all to life, so that anyone new to golf can get a grasp of what is involved. In this blog, our focus is on Mulligan golf.



Taking a Mulligan is a common golfing expression. It basically means retaking a shot after we have hit a particularly bad one. It could be a very bad putt that we inexplicably miss from close range. Or a drive that we either fluff, or we hit out of bounds or into deep trouble. Or worst of all, it could be an air shot! No golfer likes doing one of those!

But where does the expression come from? There are a couple of theories to this one. The first comes from a man called David B. Mulligan from Canada. This version has it that Mr Mulligan arrived flustered onto the first tee and promptly hit a bad shot. As such, he immediately put another ball down in order for him to play what he termed a ‘correction shot’.

The other story involved a locker room attendant called John A Mulligan who worked at Essex Falls Country Club in New Jersey. He used to play with the assistant pro and a club member once he had finished his work. One day, his first shot was bad and he begged his partners to let him take it again. He claimed that while he had been working, his playing partners had been practising and warming up for their round, putting Mulligan at a disadvantage. Word of the ‘Mulligan’ spread through the locker room and it became a common thing for members at the club to include in their own games.



As a format, Mulligan golf is not used in any kind of competitions. It is something that can be introduced into a social game between friends or an informal roll-up or fiddle. (That is a competition that does not have reserved tee-times but somewhere between 10 and 15 people turn up and play an ad-hoc event, with three to five groupings.) But an informal rule can be agreed between participants as to how many Mulligans are allowed in the nine or 18 holes.



A Mulligan is repeating a shot or taking it again for no penalty. It effectively wipes the previous shot from memory. For example, if on the first tee we hit our tee shot out of bounds, we could shout ‘Mulligan’. That means we would put a fresh ball down and tee off again and that would count as our first shot rather than playing three off the tee. Or if we miss from two or three feet on the green, we could shout ‘Mulligan’, take it again and hole it and in scoring for the hole count that as one single putt.  

If playing a version of Mulligan golf, the tactics would centre around when to use our Mulligans. The easiest temptation is to use them early in a round, similar to that of both John A Mulligan and David B Mulligan. Most likely we want to use them at that point because we have not got into the flow of our round and nobody wants to have a disastrous hole early on. However, if we have more than one Mulligan, it is tempting to save one up for later in the round. If playing a casual game with our friends or family, a Mulligan could come in very useful in the last few holes if we are trying to win, especially if there is a small wager involved!


When to play:

Mulligan golf is actually a really fun game to play for those who are new to the game. Or even for those who are playing a friendly game of golf for the first time in a while and whose game is understandably rusty. It’s not supposed to be treated as seriously as our local club’s strokeplay championship or the final of the singles matchplay. Having a Mulligan to make up for a terrible shot can do us the world of good if we are trying to get our confidence up or rediscover our best golf.

Another way of introducing Mulligans into a game could be on a Charity golf day. Organisers could offer players the chance to ‘buy a Mulligan’ to be able to use during the round. It is not the traditional thing to do, but it’s light hearted and a good way of raising more money if we are running a charity fundraiser. Obviously we should limit it – we don’t want a player to be able to buy an unlimited number of Mulligans as then that person would almost be able to buy enough extra shots to win the tournament! Maybe that is how a certain ex-American President has been so successful at the game!


A Gilligan:

If playing Mulligans, there is another dimension that we can add to the game to make it even more interesting. That is a Gilligan. A Gilligan is basically the opposite of a Mulligan. This is something that our opponents can have up their sleeves to throw at us during a round. It also involves playing a shot again, only this time a good shot.

If we hit a great shot, whether that is holing an incredible putt, chipping in from off the green or nailing a long drive from the tee on a difficult hole, our opponents can shout ‘Gilligan’. That means we would have to take our shot again from exactly the same position. What our opponents are doing is challenging us to pull off a seemingly great shot twice in a row. They are effectively saying that they don’t think that we can do it again.

Obviously this is not to be used in any kind of formal game, but it can add an extra layer of fun and interest to a round with our regular playing partners.           


Mulligans and professional golf:

We probably will not be at all surprised to hear this but Mulligans are never used in professional golf. However, it is easy to think of times when players would have loved to be able to use them. Bernhard Langer’s missed five-footer for Europe on the final green as the USA won the Ryder Cup in 1991. Jordan Spieth at the par-three 12th at Augusta in the 2016 US Masters when he held a one-shot lead, had a quadruple bogey seven after two shots into Rae’s Creek and walked off the green three shots behind Danny Willett. Or Jean van de Velde at any stage of the 18th hole at Carnoustie in the 1999 Open when the French golfer had one of the most epic brain fades that anyone has ever witnessed in golf.

Just think how different golfing history would be if players had been able to blank out or repeat shots that had gone wrong at critical junctures of big tournaments by using a Mulligan!    

For more on the different rules of golf read more of our golf blog and check out how to play Texas Scramble, Stableford, Foursomes, Matchplay and Greensomes.      

About the Author

Adam Lanigan - Golf Writer

Adam is a freelance news and sports journalist who has written for the BBC, The Sunday Post, The I, The Times, The Telegraph and more. He has been writing about golf for nearly two decades and has covered 13 Open Championships and two Ryder Cups. Not only does Adam cover golf, but he has played golf for as long as he can remember. He was a member at Northenden Golf Club for around 25 years until his children arrived and his last official handicap was 11, although on any given day his form fluctuates anywhere between eight and 18.