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A mulligan, in a game, happens when a player gets a second chance to perform a certain move or action. The practice is also sometimes referred to as a "do-over."
Mulligan in golf
In golf, a mulligan is a stroke that is replayed from the spot of the previous stroke without penalty, due to an errant shot made on the previous stroke. The result is, as the hole is played and scored, as if the first errant shot had never been made. This practice is disallowed entirely by strict rules and players who attempt it or agree to let it happen may be disqualified from sanctioned competitions. However, in casual play, mulligans speed play by reducing the time spent searching for a lost ball, and reduce frustration and increase enjoyment of the game, as a player can "shake off" a bad shot more easily with their second chance.
As mulligans aren't covered by strict rules (except to prohibit them), there are many variations of the practice among groups of players who do allow them in friendly games. If a mulligan is allowed to be used to replay any shot, each player is typically limited to one per round, sometimes one in the first 9 holes and one in the second nine. Traditionally, mulligans can only be played on tee shots (which are notoriously difficult to make accurately), and sometimes they may only be played on the first tee shot of the round. In the case of a mulligan used to replay the first tee shot, multiple "mulligans" may be allowed under different names (Finnegan, Branagan, Flanagan) until the player has hit a playable tee shot.
Golf tournaments held for charity may sell mulligans to collect more money for the charity.
There are many theories about the origin of the term. The United States Golf Association (USGA) cites three stories explaining that the term derived from the name of a Canadian golfer, David Mulligan, one time manager of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, who played at the Country Club of Montreal golf course, in Saint-Lambert near Montreal during the 1920s. One version has it that one day after hitting a poor tee shot, Mulligan re-teed and shot again. He called it a "correction shot," but his friends thought it more fitting to name the practice after him. David Mulligan then brought the concept from Canada to the famous U.S. golf club Winged Foot. A second version has the extra shot given to Mulligan due to his being jumpy and shaky after a difficult drive over the Victoria Bridge to the course. The final version of the David Mulligan story gives him an extra shot after having overslept, rushing to get ready to make the tee time.
An alternate, later etymology credits a different man named Mulligan — John A. "Buddy" Mulligan, a locker room attendant at Essex Fells CC, New Jersey. In the 1930s, he would finish cleaning the locker room and, if no other members appeared, play a round with the asst. pro, Dave O'Connell and a club reporter/member, Des Sullivan (later Golf editor for The Newark Evening News). One day his first shot was bad and he beseeched O'Connell and Sullivan to allow another shot since they "had been practicing all morning" and he had not. Once the "OK" had been given and the round finished, Mulligan proudly exclaimed to the members in his locker room for months how he had gotten an extra shot from the duo. The members loved it and soon began giving themselves "Mulligans" in honor of John "Buddy" Mulligan. Sullivan began using the term in his golf articles in The Newark Evening News. The TV "Today Show" ran this story about 2005 and has it in their archives. Mulligan was located in the 1970s at a VA Hospital on Long Island.
According to the author Henry Beard, the term comes from Thomas Mulligan, a minor Anglo-Irish aristocrat and passionate golfer who was born on May 1, 1793 and lived near Lough Sclaff, on the Shannon estuary, in a modest manor house called Duffnaught Hall, which was totally destroyed in a mysterious fire one week after his death on April 1, 1879. Mulligan is said to have written, "Inasmuch as strokes taken after play is concluded on the 18th hole do not count towards the total entered on one's tally card, it seems to me eminently reasonable that any shots struck before play is properly commenced with a satisfactory drive on the first tee, should be of no more consequence to one's score than those swings which one has made by way of practice in the course of hitting balls upon the driving ground." In short, the player's first tallied stroke for a game is the first playable drive from the first tee, and any shots made beforehand are not scored.
According to the USGA, the term first achieved widespread use in the 1940s.
The term has found a broader acceptance in both general speech and other games, meaning any minor blunder which is allowed to pass unnoticed or without consequence. In both senses, it is implied that a mulligan is forgiven because it was either made by a rank beginner, or it is unusual and not indicative of the level of play or conduct expected of the person who made the mulligan.
Although certain players may wish to bank their shots, this is deemed un-sportsman-like and is generally frowned upon, with the exception of ladies golf.
Often, though, in the realm of a fantasy sport, especially baseball, certain team owners who drop a player only to regret it several hours later call on their respective commissioners to undo or grant a mulligan in order to reverse the transaction, even though the player is in the waiver pool.
Another example is in politics, where the losing candidate in a party primary may be able to run again in the general election on another ballot line. In the 2006 Connecticut US Senate race, many Ned Lamont supporters accused Senator Joseph Lieberman of running a mulligan race as an independent, since he had lost the Democratic Party primary. In the 2008 American Democratic primary elections, the term mulligan has been used to describe the possible redo elections in Michigan and Florida, after their results were declared invalid due to the early scheduling of the contests, against Democratic party rules.
In certain circles, especially among binge drinkers, individuals have been known to "take a mulligan" in regards to their actions while drinking.
The term has also been used to refer to provisions in syndicated loan documentation where lenders only get the right to accelerate their loans after two financial covenants are breached. This practice is rarer today but was popular with sponsors at the height of the credit boom in 2006/07, allowing them to postpone the date at which they needed to start negotiating a restructuring with lenders. The loan "mulligan" is to be contrasted with a "deemed cure" clause which would allow a covenant breach to be disregarded in the event the next covenant tests were met. In addition, it typically remains possible with loans carrying financial covenants for a borrower to "cure" covenant breaches after the event by injecting new cash equity.
Collectible card games
In Magic: The Gathering, a player may declare a mulligan after drawing his or her initial hand at the beginning of each game. If such a declaration is made, the player puts his or her cards back into his or her deck, shuffles, and draws a new hand with one less card. A common reason for declaring a mulligan would be getting a hand with no mana sources, that is, a hand that has no playable cards. The player may repeat this until satisfied, or until the number of cards in his or her hand reaches zero.
This mulligan style is known as the Paris mulligan, although it was first used in 1997 at the L.A. Pro Tour tournament as a test for the new system. It was mistakenly left in the Paris Pro Tour player's packet and this is where it finally got its name. Before that, the mulligan functioned differently. If a player had either 0 or 7 lands in their starting hand, that player could show his or her hand to the opponent, shuffle, and draw a new hand of seven cards. This was only allowed once. The new rule removed the requirement of revealing the hand to the opponent and made the mulligan a much more strategic part of the game, creating trade-off and risk where before there was none.
Casual games of Magic may have a house or proxy rule that offers a little more forgiveness with mulligans, with a standard format being to allow the player to re-draw their first hand of 7 cards, then standard mulligan rules apply. This form of mulligan is not, however, official or used in tournaments, and is carried out entirely by consent of the players involved in that game.
Unlike golf, mulligans in Magic are legal under game and tournament rules, and are more frequently associated with poor luck than lack of skill.
In the Pokémon TCG, a player must declare a mulligan when during their draw they have no Basic Pokémon in their hand (as one of the victory conditions is to reduce one player's stock of Pokémon to zero). At this point they must show the hand to their opponent, shuffle the cards back in to the deck and draw seven new cards. Their opponent then has the option to draw one extra card per mulligan. There is no limit to the number of mulligans that can be declared. The card draw part of the rule is not applied in the Game Boy version of the game.
In UFS the rules are a bit different. "After drawing their hands players may decide to take what is called a mulligan. The player who will be taking the first turn has the opportunity to take a mulligan first. Then the player who will take the second turn has the opportunity to mulligan. Players may only take one mulligan at the beginning of the game. If a player decides to mulligan all the cards currently in their hand are removed from the game and they draw a number of cards equal to their character’s printed hand size."
- Brent Kelley. "Mulligan". About.com. Retrieved 2009-01-31.
- Bogey Golf Association. Mulligans.
- Tournament Golf. Mulligans.
- FAQ — History of the term "Mulligan" USGA Museum Golf History
- Mulligan+ Golf Courses and Score Tracking
- No election mulligans; The Michigan Daily; 19 February 2008; Retrieved on 24 March 2008
- Universal Fighting System (UFS) Tournament Rules v1.7