A mulligan is a 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, even 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 alternative, later, etymology credits a different man named Mulligan – John A. "Buddy" Mulligan, a locker room attendant at Essex Fells Country Club in New Jersey. In the 1930s, he would finish cleaning the locker room and, if no other members appeared, play a round with the assistant pro, Dave O'Connell, and a reporter and member, Des Sullivan, who was 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 they agreed 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 his honor. Sullivan began using the term in his golf articles in the Newark Evening News. The Today Show TV program ran this story around 2005 and have it in their archives. Mulligan was located in the 1970s at the Lyons, New Jersey VA Hospital, 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 in formal play 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.
The opposite of a mulligan, to redo a negative stroke, is a 'gilligan', to redo a positive stroke.
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 18 per round, sometimes 9 in the first 9 holes and 9 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 or a Craig) 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.
Use at charity golf events and fundraisers
In 2013, the term mulligan became a federally registered trademark, identifying tax deductible receipts used by nonprofit organizations at their charitable events. The registration details of the brand can be found under serial number 85683597 at the United States Patent and Trademark Office website. The trademark is identified as Mulligan® brand and all goods under this mark contain anti-counterfeiting devices in the form of holograms, unique serial numbers, and specialized inks.
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.
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 Vancouver mulligan, as it was first used in 2015 at the Vancouver Pro Tour tournament. Before the Vancouver mulligan, the mulligan functioned similarly but without the scry mechanic, which was called the Paris mulligan. Prior to the Paris mulligan, there was a much different mechanic. If a player had either zero or seven lands in their starting hand, that player could show his or her hand to their 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. 
A similar rule exists in Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. At the beginning of a match one player will draw 3 cards, the other player 4, and if either player is not happy with the draw they may choose to mulligan. This decision is normally based on how much mana the cards are worth. For example, one would mulligan away an 8 mana card in the hopes of drawing something cheaper.
Some other card games use variations of the mulligan to retry for a new opening hand for various reasons. In the Pokémon Trading Card Game for example, each player needs at least one Basic Pokémon Card in their opening hand to start the game, so the rules force players that don't fulfill this requirement to declare a mulligan, repeatedly if necessary, until they draw a hand that does. To dissuade players from abusing this rule, their opponent may choose to draw one additional card for every mulligan performed.
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. gilligans.
- Tournament Golf. Mulligans.
- Calderaro, Marc. "THE VANCOUVER MULLIGAN RULE". Magic the Gathering. Wizards of the Coast LLC. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
- Rosewater, Mark. "Starting Over - The origins of the mulligan rule". Wizards of the Coast.
- No election mulligans; The Michigan Daily; 19 February 2008; Retrieved on 24 March 2008