If a playing partner distracts you mid-swing, should you feel entitled to a do-over?

Should mid-round mulligans be granted for unexpected disturbances?

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Quiet, please!

Or not.

Golf isn’t always played in silence. Sometimes, someone talks or sneezes. Or a siren wails. Or a golf bag topples over. Or a numbskull hollers “forrrre!” from a passing car.

If this happens in your backswing, and you shank or top or skull one, do you deserve a redo?

In tournament golf, it (almost) goes without saying, you do not. Rules are rules and the field must be protected.

But what about in a friendly four-ball match, where the regulations aren’t etched in stone and the implications are restricted to your group?

megaphone talking to golf ball
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Should a mid-round mulligan be granted then?

The Etiquetteist would argue that it should not. Life isn’t fair. Neither is golf. Take your lickings and move on.

Granted, The Etiquetteist is biased.

Having been raised like Tiger Woods, with a monkish calm and focus that was honed in toddlerhood, he is all but impervious to distractions. What’s more, his own swing is so twitchy and erratic that any sudden noises are just as apt to help as they are to hurt.

For those reasons, The Etiquetteist expects no mercy from his opponents.

He does not believe in granting it, either.

Did that backfiring golf-cart motor bother you? Sorry to hear that. Now, let’s go find your ball.

Did that backfiring golf-cart motor bother you? Sorry to hear that. Now, let’s go find your ball.

Call it a zero-tolerance policy toward weak-minded excuse-making.

The Etiquetteist recommends that you adopt it, too.

The counterargument is as obvious as it is unpersuasive: In a friendly game, there should be forgiveness.  

Alas, no! If it’s so friendly, why are you so worried about protecting your score?

By offering your playing partner a mid-round do-over, you may feel as if you’re taking the noble path. In fact, you’re walking a slippery slope.

The same golfer who today blames a bad shot on the ill-timed chuckle of a playing partner will complain tomorrow about a gust of wind or the distant trill of a whippoorwill.

Before long, they’ll be asking for a mulligan because of nagging voices in their head.

golf scorecard
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Where does it end? It doesn’t.

Tough love is the only way to go.

To help you grow accustomed to this approach, The Etiquetteist suggests that you and your friends try a round of what is known as “full-contact” golf. In this permutation of the great game of honor, talking is permitted at any time: no shouting or out-of-the-blue exclamations, but constant chatter in a conversational tone. As your buddy waggles and draws back the club, you might, for instance, ask: “Your grip looks a little stronger than it used to be. Did you change it?” Or “How many hot dogs are you getting at the turn?”

Your partners are free to return the razzing in kind.

Not only is this entertaining, but it will also help you sharpen your powers of concentration, so that next time, when you’re playing a normal round of golf, and one of your friends does something inconsiderate to distract you, you won’t need to make excuses.

You might just need to make new friends.

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A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.