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, which is attested since late 1940s. The United States Golf Association (USGA) cites three stories explaining that the term derived from the name of a Canadian golfer, David B. Mulligan (1869-1954), 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 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 is a "gilligan", which is to redo a successful stroke when so requested by an opponent.
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 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. 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. In some cases a mulligan is given for disastrous bad luck at the very beginning of a game which would put a player at an insurmountable disadvantage.
In classic rules of Merchant of Venus a piece of equipment on sale for players, called Mulligan Gear, permits a player to re-roll one of two dice in each of their movements.
In darts, the term may be used when a poorly thrown dart is re-thrown (for example, when an inexperienced player misses the board with a dart, or if someone has a bounce out, the dart may be re-thrown).
Collectible card games
In collectible card games, a mulligan refers to the process of adjusting which cards are in a player's initial hand of cards. Card games have various official rules for how mulligans are performed.
In Magic: The Gathering, a player may declare a mulligan after drawing their initial hand at the beginning of each game. If such a declaration is made, the player puts their cards back into their deck, shuffles, and draws a new hand and then puts one card from their hand into the bottom of his library. The player may repeat this until satisfied, or until the number of cards in their hand reaches zero. The mulligan process has changed drastically over the history of the game. The current style is known as the London mulligan, as it was first used at a Mythic Championship tournament held in London.
Other card games, such as Hearthstone and Shadowverse, use "partial mulligan" rules, in which players may choose which cards in their opening hands to keep and which ones they want to discard. Each player discards these cards at the same time and draws a new card from their deck for each discarded card, then shuffle.
In the Pokémon Trading Card Game each player needs at least one Basic Pokémon Card in their opening hand to start the game. The rules force players that do not 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.
In Dragon Ball Super Card Game, the player is given the chance to mulligan. They may return any number of cards into their deck and shuffle it, then draw the same number of cards.
In the LCG Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn, The First Five rule allows a player to choose the first five cards that comprise their first hand.
In Keyforge, a player who is dissatisfied with their hand may discard it and draw a new hand with one fewer cards.
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 is also coming into use to describe situations (which are becoming increasingly common in the age of social media) where a political party's candidate or delegate is suddenly replaced by the party leadership on the eve of an election or convention, usually either because the person's loyalty to the party or its leaders have come into question or because unsavory details regarding his past or character surface that warrant drastic measures to mitigate damage to the reputation or electoral prospects of the party or its leadership. Electoral rules and laws mostly drafted prior to the advent of social media often severely restrict or prohibit the replacement of candidates after the nomination period has closed, which might be weeks or even months prior to the final vote. Proposals to relax such rules to allow parties to deal with to the increased likelihood of a candidate's dodgy past coming to light at an inopportune moment have been mocked as mulligan rules by critics.
In finance, the term 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.
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