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Original Issue

Mulligan Stew

The game's most convenient tool has a most confounding history

Among the most baffling mysteries in the sport of glof...woops. FOOORRRE!

Among the most baffling mysteries in the sport of golf is the origin of the mulligan. One sports dictionary defines a mulligan as the "playing of a second ball if the first shot was unsatisfactory." In duffer-speak that would be "another guiltless hack after topping a worm-burner into the drink." Neither explanation can be found in the 1994 Rules of Golf. But for many years mulligans have been beating the heck out of fancy stuff like square grooves and long-stemmed putters when it comes to transforming those nettlesome triple bogeys into pars. The mulligan is simply the most significant innovation in the lowering of golf scores this side of cheating.

Nobody, it seems, is too proud to take a mulligan. Former President George Bush was noted for creating an amendment to wayward shots whenever it was prudent. Bill Clinton vetoes a drive now and again. And Ike invoked executive privilege (the Eisenhower Rule) by taking a mully on the first tee if his opening salvo caromed off his cart or something equally irksome.

Former Masters champion Ben Crenshaw shot a 65 during a casual round at Shinnecock Hills in 1973 only to find out that he would have owned the course record had he not employed a mulligan on the first tee. Bummer.

The most interesting second swing by a PGA Tour player has to be the one taken by Billy Kratzert. He and his wife, Cheryl Ann, got married, divorced and then remarried, at which time Cheryl Ann said, "I guess we took our mulligan." We might suggest a new term, a kratzert, since Billy has since teed it up with another woman.

Some golf reference books imply that the mulligan harks back to a mysterious Miss Mulligan who won the first Irish Ladies Championship, in 1894, presumably without the aid of a mully.

Golf writer Des Sullivan told the story of a locker room attendant at the Essex Fells, N.J., golf club in the 1930s who asked for a warmup shot when he sneaked away from his clubhouse chores to play a round. It seems that Buddy Mulligan's buddies soon insisted on similar graft.

The U.S. Golf Association subscribes to the yarn about the guy who always drove his foursome to St. Lambert Country Club in Montreal in the late 1920s. Along the route he had to negotiate a pot-holed road and a bridge lined with cross-ties. He was thus granted a bonus shot to compensate for any shakes he might have retained from holding the steering wheel too tightly. His name? David Mulligan.

For some blue-collar insight we contacted self-proclaimed golf sage Leonard (Two-Down) O'Connor, who, trust us, is never afraid to speculate. "My theory is it came from some Irish livery buyer named Brian Mulligan," said Two-Down. "He was out on the links one day with a client who sliced his drive into the gorse. So Brian thought it would be good for business to give the bloke another chance. Face it, you don't give free shots to your friends."


Let's go to Bob Rosburg on the 17th. Rossie?

"I have no idea."

Thanks, Rossie.

The boys at the Royal & Ancient of St. Andrews were no help either, except to sniff that such an abomination of custom as the mulligan had to have sprung from the Colonies.

Golf Digest's Charlie Price, who used to help Harry Vardon adjust his grip, says, "I've heard all the stories about the mulligan, and every one is too convenient. I don't think we'll ever know for sure."

Several other golf icons, whose identities we will protect (because these people attend the company Christmas party), stammered, then told unplayable lies.

Through with kidding around, we spoke to a former golf writer named Hugh Mulligan, who had researched the mystery of his namesake. Mr. Mulligan conjectured about everyone from stately, plump Buck Mulligan, the blasphemous med student in James Joyce's Ulysses, to Hercules Mulligan, the forefather of the CIA. Collect call to Hugh from Earth. Will you accept?

Exasperated, we went to Mulligan's Pub in Manhattan in search of an answer or, if not an answer, a Guinness. "Do you know where mulligan comes from?" we asked of the barkeep.

"Sure," he said. "Dublin, originally."

We probably need a mulligan.