A mulligan is second chance to perform an action, usually after the first chance went wrong through bad luck or a blunder. Its best-known meaning is in golf whereby a player is informally allowed to replay a stroke (though this is against the formal rules of golf). The term has also been applied to other sports and games, and to other fields generally. The origin of the term is unclear.
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 reporter and 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 around 2005 and have it in their archives. Mulligan was located in the 1970s at The Lyons VA Hospital in New Jersey helping with their golf facility. Des Sullivan, now semi-retired, wrote of this find in his July 22, 1970 column, in the Myrtle Beach Sun News
Use 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 that 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.
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. Golf tournaments held for charity may sell mulligans to collect more money for the charity.
In other games
The term has found a broader acceptance in both general speech and other games, meaning any minor mistake or unfortunate happenstance that is allowed to pass unnoticed and 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.
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.
On December 3, 2014, the NBA would present its first ever mulligan for a start of a game due to both the Philadelphia 76ers and the Minnesota Timberwolves starting their game out on the wrong end of the court. During the 16 seconds that were lost in that game, the 76ers would receive possession and gain a foul against the Timberwolves. The 76ers would end up winning 85-77 despite losing possession in the do-over.
Collectible card games
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The term has become commonly used in collectible card games, where the opening draw can sometimes determine the match.
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 zero or seven 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. 
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."
In Blizzard Entertainment's online collectible card game Hearthstone, each player has the option, after the initial card draw, of discarding any number of his/her starting cards, which are re-shuffled and replaced with fresh cards. Although not etymologically accurate, it has become known as the "mulligan" after the Magic CCG term. (The game describes the process as "Keep or Replace Cards".) Unlike Magic, there is no penalty for replacing cards but there is only one opportunity to replace starting cards and the second ones are final. Due to Hearthstone using much smaller starting hands than most card games (three cards) as well as the game's resource structure, the dynamics of mulligans are quite different. As there are no 'resource' cards, there is no equivalent to 'flooded' hands (with all or no resources) without any playable cards. Due to starting hands being so small the penalty of drawing a new hand of one card fewer would be substantially more punishing. The goal in taking these mulligans is generally in order to trade high costed cards that couldn't be played for six or more turns, in favor of a random card that could be played sooner.
Use outside games
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.
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.
- FAQ — History of the term "Mulligan" USGA Museum Golf History
- Mulligan+ Golf Courses and Score Tracking
- Bogey Golf Association. Mulligans.
- Tournament Golf. Mulligans.
- Rosewater, Mark. "Starting Over - The origins of the mulligan rule". Wizards of the Coast.
- Universal Fighting System (UFS) Tournament Rules v1.7
- No election mulligans; The Michigan Daily; 19 February 2008; Retrieved on 24 March 2008