How many times, during a purely casual, informal, non-card-submitting round of golf, have your mates forgiven you a poor shot and you returned the favour, just for the sake of having a pleasant time? Ever given a gimme?

Just for fun

To be crystal clear, getting a free, replayed, redone, uncounted, second-chance, excused, forgiven, correction shot is strictly forbidden in any round of golf that’s part of an official competition or where the score is submitted for handicap purposes. It’s just not cricket. But what about when the round is just for fun and a momentary aberration is forgiven by fellow players in the spirit of enjoyment? And why are they called Mulligans anyway?

Mulligan myths

There’s a choice of origin theories for the term ‘Mulligan’ and they all source from 1920s–30s North American individuals with the Mulligan surname in common. Choose from David or John who both pleaded forgiveness for a terrible first shot and made excuses which were accepted. There was also a fictional baseball player called Swat Mulligan who’s powerful bat-swinging ‘Mulligans’ got twisted into the forgiven golf swing term. So what are the rules for Mulligans, if they exist at all?

First tee forgiveness

We have all been on the first tee, unprepared, nervous, hoping for a Rory-esque 330-yard belter to the centre fairway that thrills the small crowd of onlooking senior members gathering at the lounge window to witness our magnificence. And then you duff one 90 degrees, ricocheting off the tee marker, into the car park and bouncing off the club captain’s Range Rover before rolling to a stop on the 18th green. Gasps are heard. Tea is spilt. Names are taken.  On just such an occasion during an informal round, perhaps a Mulligan would be useful for settling the nerves. You are insured, aren’t you?

Instant replay

Mulligans in social, unofficial play are usually associated with dreadful tee shots that are retaken but not counted, a bit like a free provisional ball. But I think there is a better, more equitable candidate for a Mulligan – forgiveness for unexpected penalties.

Unseen dark forces

If a tee shot was heading for trouble, we’d play a provisional to be on the safe side. But what about a perfectly flighted shot, witnessed by all players who praised its elegant flight, expecting it to land in a non-hazardous area? Everyone knew, or were virtually certain, that the ball would be found, but to everyone’s surprise, the ball just vanishes without trace? A rare occurrence, you might think. Well, it’s happened to me on half a dozen occasions this winter. Not that I’m bitter.

Painful mistakes

The problem with this unexpected loss is that you don’t know the ball has vanished until you’ve walked to the expected landing zone. But to everyone’s amazement, the ball is gone. Could be plugged, buried, rolled under cover, played by an unseen ghostly golfer or carried off by a large and invisible golf-ball-eating bird or animal.

From joy to despair

The psychological impact is hard to take. You were joyed by the great shot and then gutted at the loss of it. And now you’ll need to accept a stroke and distance penalty, to add insult to injury. Are you really going to do the walk of shame, back to the tee where the following group are overjoyed to see you holding them up even more? How will you feel, hitting that shot in front of those waiting players? A tad nervy? Or maybe you’d like to avoid the mortifying embarrassment and just drop another where everyone thought it would be and take a 2-stroke penalty?

The consequences of unexpected loss of your ball do seem punitive and unfair. In formal play, you have to take your medicine and swallow those unpleasant penalties. Those are the rules we abide by. But in fun social golf, perhaps a Mulligan might contribute to fun, especially for new learner golfers.

Keep it fun and keep playing

When you’re all playing for fun and not submitting cards, an occasional Mulligan just might help keep the mood light, forgives an occasional bad shot or unexpected lost ball, and helps keep everyone loving the game. As long as you establish and agree to the rules for Mulligans before you play and keep then limited, it’s fair to everyone and you can have a great time in social fun golf.

Mindful Mulligans

The positive impact of a Mulligan or two is that you’re playing golf, having fun, and less likely to get wound up and stressed by the occasional bad shots or unfortunate losses. It’s hard enough having a tough day when you’re handing in an official card, but on a purely fun round I think some forgiveness goes a long way to maintain enthusiasm and enjoyment.

But if you’re super competitive . . .

You could even spice it up with ‘Gilligans’. These are the opposite of Mulligans, when you ask an opponent to replay their amazing shot or perfect long putt, discounting the first one just to see if they mess it up the second time around. If you’re super competitive, you’ll really like this one. Your opponent, less so.

Play nicely.

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Paul Hart is a founding director of PuttBANDIT Ltd, co-inventor of the PuttBANDIT Ball Marker and has been assured that all Mulligans complied with the guidelines.

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