When and Why to Take a Mulligan in Golf

mulligan golf

No other sport emphasizes the importance of the mental game as golf. And when a golfer steps up onto the first tee box and shanks his or her first drive into the adjacent driving range or somewhere in the weeds next to a concession stand, trouble is on the horizon. The player’s mental stability is immediately tested by one of the ultimate disappointments in golf: the bad first shot.

Moments such as these are the reason that one of golf’s greatest conveniences (next to caddies and golf carts) exist in the first place – the mulligan. When official competition rules stand, mulligans are strictly forbidden. However, players of all levels participate in rounds of golf that are unofficial and purely for practice or recreation. Shot rewinds are allowed and sometimes encouraged for training purposes when this is the case.

While acknowledging the greatness of mulligans, it’s essential to clarify general situations where the second chance shot may or not be ideal. While mulligan rules can vary more wildly than house rules for Monopoly, there are certain boundaries that every golfer should keep in mind. After all, it can slow down a round or aggravate playing partners if mulligans are used too liberally or sparingly.  Even in the most frustrating of casual rounds, there’re only certain times when a mulligan should be used.

When should you use a mulligan?

mulligan golf

Every situation is unique and depending on the social climate and the mood of those around you. However, there are some general rules of etiquette to make sure that your mulligan policy isn’t shortchanging the competition or damaging your personal game.

  • The drive on the first tee box goes out of bounds. If playing a recreational round, it’s never fun to start OB. Keeping mulligans as an option makes things more enjoyable for some, but excessive mulligans can strip the stakes and enjoyment of the game for competitive-minded players. Find a happy balance by conserving your mulligans for the worst duffs or by agreeing to give each player only a certain number of do-overs.
  • A tees shot goes into the trees and no one in the playing group saw the landing spot. Hitting another one as a safe measure is a solid choice. While some golfers are more vigilant than others about playing it as it lies no matter what, doing so at the cost of scrounging the rough for half an hour can all but kill whatever enjoyment your party is having. Recreational golf should be a time to hone your competitive skills, but not at the expense of your group’s time.
  • Playing partners influence the shot. We behave differently on the course when we’re not bound by the rules or stakes of an officiated game. However, if shenanigans by your fellow players results in a lousy shot, a mulligan is almost implicitly allowed. Catcalling during the backswing, interfering with another player’s lie, or otherwise impeding on a golfer’s ability to make a focused swing are all fair reasons to call mulligan.

When shouldn’t you try again?

A golf group can’t take too many mulligans, as pace-of-play is a significant component of golf tradition and etiquette. Additionally, it’s just not in the best interest of a golfer to give themselves a second try multiple times per round or hole. Below are some situations when it’s best to settle on the original stroke.

  • There’s a group playing immediately behind you. This is a situation where you should avoid taking a mulligan at all costs out of respect. Obviously, there are exceptions, but the pace of the course is more important than an unofficial stroke you might save. No matter your discontent with a shot, it’s always better to make a better impression with your fellow golfers than it is to “win” at practice.
  • Developing your mental game. Don’t rely too heavily on mulligans. Learning how to accept your bad hits can be just as crucial as knowing how to make the good ones when it comes to keeping your cool and playing consistently. If you find yourself calling mulligan on every other shot, you might feel yourself start to panic when you’re playing with stakes and don’t have the mulligan to rely on.
  • Hitting an average tee shot that’s clearly in play. It doesn’t mean that it warrants a mulligan. If you’re outperforming your peers or making the fairway and green in regulation, you should think long and hard before calling mulligan. This is especially true if a golfer is simply upset with a putt. The green is generally off limits for mulligans except for the most errant hits.
  • Calling mulligan more than once on a single stroke. Even if your do-over results in a worse lie than your initial shot, holding the game up for everyone for your personal satisfaction is too indulgent and discourteous to consider. Unless you have the course for yourself or are playing with other novices, try to limit your resets to once per stroke.

Even professionals have their bad days. While some might frown on mulligans as taking the easy way out, it can be an excellent learning experience to try the same stroke with multiple attempts. It can also keep things interesting for a recreational game instead of turning your day on the links as grim as a funeral procession. What are your personal rules when it comes to calling mulligan? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Alan Unruh, PGA

Alan Unruh is a Class “A” member of the PGA of America, and holds PGA Certifications in General Management, Golf Operations and Player Development. With these certifications, he is among the 1% of PGA members that hold multiple PGA Certifications. He has a profound passion for the game of golf along with extensive experience and knowledge regarding planning and strategy for golf operations, rules of golf, tournament operations and golf swing fundamentals. Alan has also played a crucial role helping manage multiple high profile tournaments throughout his career including the USGA Women’s U.S. Open, PGA and LPGA Tour events, and multiple NCAA and AJGA events.

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