Mulligans: A fair way to get better or a slippery slope to cheating?

April 8, 2020

In GOLF’s all-new series That’s Debatable, sponsored by Cisco WebEx, we’re settling some of golf’s most heated disputes. Our writers and editors have been seeded 1-16, battling head-to-head to determine whose takes are most on point. Today, we take up an argument made by high and low-handicappers alike for generations: are mulligans ethical, or are they cheating?

If you’ve played golf, you’ve taken a mulligan. It’s a simple fact of life, like the weather changing or the sun shining. But just because you can take a mulligan doesn’t mean you should. Or does it?

It’s the 5 vs. 12 matchup battling it out for “mulligan madness” in today’s edition of That’s Debatable. On one side is the fifth-seeded man with the plan, GOLF editor-in-chief David Denunzio. On the other, a pretty, pretty, pretty good 12-seed, social media editor Tim Reilly. You can watch the pair battle it out above or read their arguments below.

No Mulligans (Reilly)

1) Rules are rules! Golf is a game of honor, integrity and self-governing. No self-respecting golfer would actually use a mulligan.

2) Mulligans are a gateway drug. Once you start taking mulligans, what’s next? You’ve started loosening up the rules of golf and now you can’t be trusted to abide by the rest. Next thing you know you’re grounding your wedge in the sand before a bunker shot …

3) What happens if your second ball goes in on a par-3? Don’t even think about counting that as an ace. This is a prime example of why you can’t use a mulligan. You get one shot and you live with the results.

4) Think about the pace of play. Is there anything worse than anxiously waiting on the tee box and spotting a golfer in front of you dig into their pocket for another ball after hitting a shot?  No one wants to see you hit that second ball.

5) “Mulligan Man” is the worst nickname you can be given in golf. Why? Because no one takes a golfer who notoriously uses mulligans seriously.

Mulligans (Denunzio)

1) A huge majority of rounds played around the world—maybe even as much as 99 percent—are recreational. Score is but an adjunct to why most people tee it up anyway. Allowing an extra swing can go a long way toward improving the experience. And handicapping concerns? There’s not a single golfer that consistently plays to his/her number anyways.

2) A precedent for mulligans is established by other sports. In tennis, you get two tries on every serve—go for broke on the first, play it safe on the second. Heck, let’s start a campaign: “two off the first.” Weekend players don’t often have the luxury of time in executing a proper warmup before teeing off. We’re most likely still lacing our spikes while running to the first tee. Seems fair.

3) Pace of play issues—a quick re-tee takes less time than searching for a wayward drive somewhere in the rough.

4) Does anyone care what you score anyway? In the grillroom, it’s always obvious who played the better round.

5) Everyone understands that rules are rules, so some must be established for mulligans: 1) You can’t “buy” them; 2) Mulligans are gifts by others to you. In the absence of a wholesale adoption to “two off the first,” the words “I’m taking a mulligan” should never be muttered; 3) Limit them to the first tee. Again, the primary purpose here is to alleviate the lack of prep time and to keep players from carding 8 on the first, dampening the tone. Plus, a break at the start may stop you from foot-wedging your ball into better position later in the round.


The Winner (by judge’s decision)

Mulligans! If they’re unethical, so what? They make the game fun. Our five seed will go on to face the winner of the 7-10 matchup between Ashley Mayo and Andrew Tursky. Keep it locked on GOLF.com and @GOLF_com on social media to follow along as “That’s Debatable” continues every day at noon!

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