John Renslow: Golf has one word for a second chance | TheUnion.com
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John Renslow: Golf has one word for a second chance

You saw those red and blue lights, but you were only going a few miles over the speed limit, right? Or, you pressed “send” on that resignation letter and now you’re not so sure.

We all wish we had a “do over” from time to time. It may not erase that bad result or allow us to go back in time, but it could give you a “get out of jail free” card or simply cancel out that epic fail. Nearly everyone who plays golf, even many that don’t play the game, are familiar with the second chance known as a Mulligan.

It is also interesting that other recreational sports don’t invoke this time honored tradition. Have you ever heard a bowler say, “Oh gee, I didn’t like that first frame, I’m going to take a mulligan.” Or maybe your tennis partner, “Hmmm… I didn’t get off to a good start. I want a mulligan.”



Mulligans were spawned in the world of golf and as we understand it, use of the term began nearly a century ago. Of course, as with many things that happened prior to YouTube, there is some debate as to the origin.

There are two popular tales and, as you might expect, they both surround men named Mulligan. The first was a David Bernard Mulligan. A member of a New York private club in the late 1920s, Mulligan was frustrated by his opening tee shot. Although the Rules of Golf didn’t and don’t allow for do-overs without penalty, Mulligan reportedly bent over to tee up another ball and complained about the previous day’s labor.



The other three players let it go, but when Mulligan and his partner narrowly won the match it seems some negotiating began. Because, for their next round, all of them got a “correctional shot” of their own. Soon after, it seems the opportunity spread throughout the club and the Mulligan was born.

New Jersey is the site of our next rendition. As the story goes, a locker room attendant, John A. “Buddy” Mulligan, played a few holes after work with club members and pro shop staff. One day, following a particularly poor first shot, he argued that he should be given another shot. After all, the others had been practicing or playing and he had just clocked out. Thus, the Mulligan.

Today, some players allow an unused first tee Mulligan to be put into play elsewhere in the round. Shoot, this correctional do-over has become so common the word is used in virtually every household, business and activity.

Yes, there is humor and fun in the Mulligan. We even give it other names. A “breakfast ball” is for that early tee-time and the muscles are still waking up.

Here is what you need to know. First, remember that the word Mulligan is not in the Rules of Golf. It is not acceptable in competition. Second, even though it is used recreationally, purists will frown on this practice and many golf courses do not allow a second ball.

So, it is good that you are familiar with this tradition. Yet, a word to the golfer who wants to fit in and maintain that veteran image. Unless this it is common in your group, do not be the first one to tee up another ball. In fact, if you are new to a group, don’t be the first to mention it.

Again, it can be a fun tradition and an opportunity to get over those first tee jitters. However, bear in mind that in a competitive or shall we say “formal” situation, it may be considered uncouth.

Hopefully your tee shot is solid, down the middle. If not, just be willing to take your lumps. But, if someone says, “Oh, it’s okay, hit a Mulligan.” Now, there’s no worries, tee up another one and give it a ride!

John Renslow is a PGA professional, VP of Yugi Golf Management, and provides golf instruction at local courses.

John Renslow

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