Taking The Guesswork Out Of Mulligans

imageNever letting a rule stand in the way of a good time, our golf league allows each player one Mulligan per round. And why not? Friday night is supposed to be fun, allowing teachers to blow off some steam after a long week trying ensure that disinterested students all score above average on Ted Kennedy’s No Child Left Behind tests (I’ll make no commentary on the mathematics of this).

While I was at first dismayed at the Mulligans (I tend to be a purist) I’ve discovered that playing with them creates a new dimension of strategy. Under regular rules, a poor tee shot offers only one option: play it as it lies. You trudge to the spot where the ball landed and whack it again.

Introduce Mulligans into the equation and players suddenly are faced with an entirely different decision set. With each weak pop up and massive slice out-of-bounds, you have to evaluate the full extent of the damage: Was that last shot bad enough to warrant using your one and only Mulligan?

I rarely use my Mulligans. No mattter how bad the shot, my pessimistic nature leads me to imagine that there is another out there that’s even worse—or one that could come at a worse time. So I save my mulligan for later. And by the time I get down to the last couple of holes, I generally don’t need the do-over. I’m warmed up, and hitting fairways and greens.

Using the Mulligan requires gambler’s instincts and I don’t have them.

The primary risk of playing your only Mulligan is that the second shot might not be any better than the first. If you follow your duck hook into the woods with another exactly like it, you’re still hitting three—and now you’ve lost your security blanket.

There’s a great deal of guesswork in a mulligan, and thus, some of the more creative players in our league have created the “Provisional Mulligan.”

The Provisional Mulligan takes all of the guesswork out of the play. If you hit a weak pop just beyond the ladies tee, you immediately reload and declare that you’re going to play a “Provisional Mulligan.” If the second is better than the first, you use the Mulligan. If, however, you slice your Mulligan out of bounds, you play the original ball, and keep the do-over for later.

Yes, it’s cheating. But strangely, I don’t mind. I don’t use them, but if the other guys think it’s more fun, I say more power to them.

Fortunately, the Provisional Mulligan seems to get used on only the most questionable of shots. Otherwise, it could make for some very long rounds, indeed.

3 thoughts on “Taking The Guesswork Out Of Mulligans”

  1. I have some friends who are big fans of the provisional mulligan, and I hate it.  I actually think that the USGA should enact a rule specifically outlawing the provisional mulligan, although they would have to acknowledge the existance of the regular mulligan when they do it. 

    It is one thing to it creep into your regular group of friends or mini-leagues, but the real problem as I see it is that most every charity scramble has mulligans for sale, and when people start hitting a provisional mulligan and then decide to withdraw it,  you get some teams taking tons of mulligans, trying to get the good shots in.  When I ran my charity scramble a few weeks back, I did make a specific rule that the mulligan is lost as soon as it is hit, regardless if it is useful or not.

    What is funny though, is that I have about a half dozen friends who play with me somewhat regularly as guests of mine at my club—everyone of them are mulligan users, but since I keep a handicap, I keep really honest (except sometimes I will take one on the very first tee shot, which is pretty much allowed via member-consensus local rule).  All these friends are really bothered that I won’t take mulligans!  They want a first shot mulligan and then a mulligan per side (although they will use a second side mulligan on the 7th hole if they need to, or a first side mulligan on #10 if it is still not used).  But it drives them nuts and makes them feel bad if I don’t take the mulligans too—but it really doesn’t bother me if they use them, as long as they do it quick.

  2. Please advise when it is best to use a Mulligan in golf. I played in a charity golf turnament yesterday and there was heated discussion when to use our mulligans. I have always understood that the best use of a mulligan is on the putting green where there is higher probability that the use of the mulligan can reduce your score by one, use elsewhere on the course is higher risk.

    Your comments would be appreciated.


    Dave Scruton


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