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Mulligan

Posted by Admin on April 3, 2021

Recently Idiomation came across the expression mulligan which is a free shot, so to speak. It’s a do-over or a second chance that replaces the first attempt at something, and is only accepted among friends in informal circumstances. As can be expected, you can give a mulligan or you can take a mulligan but you can never borrow one or lend one out.

The Antelope Valley Press in Palmdale (CA) posted an OpEd piece by Thomas Elias title, “Primary Exposes Problems With Early Voting” on 22 March 2020. It dealt with early voting and the primaries, and how the election in 2020 exposed weaknesses in California’s early voting system. The names that appeared on the early voting ballots included names of candidates who had dropped out of the Presidential race. You can imagine how that affected the results when November rolled around. This is how the author of the piece summed matters up.

Some of those voters would have liked to take a mulligan and vote over again once their candidates dropped out shortly before Election Day. 

As Idiomation continued researching the expression, an Irish tale was shared that claims that back in the day, and long before the turn of the 20th century, a foursome of Irish lads took their practice drives at the first hole. The oldest man, displeased with how everyone’s first shot had gone, said in his thick Irish brogue, “Do them all again!” The American foursome behind them overheard his comment, liked the idea of a practice shot and repeated the phrase they thought they heard, “Do the Mulligan!”

With that story being shared, Idiomation decided to see if there was a connection between giving or taking a mulligan and golf.

Amateur golfer, hotelier, and Canadian David Bernard Mulligan, in an interview in 1952 with Sudbury Star sportswriter Don Mackintosh, told the story of how the expression came to be. It all happened at the Country Club of Montreal (established in 1910) — which involved driving across the mile-long Victoria Bridge to get to the golf course — some time in the mid-1920s, according to David Bernard Mulligan.

One day while playing in my usual foursome, I hit a ball off the first tee that was long enough but not straight. I was so provoked with myself that on impulse I stooped over and put another ball down. The other three looked at me with considerable puzzlement and one of them asked, “What are you doing?”

“’I’m taking a correction shot,’ I replied. ‘What do you call that?’ the partner inquired. Thinking fast, I told him that I called it a ‘mulligan.’

INTERESTING SIDE SIDE NOTE 1: On 22 July 1923, on page 55 of the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper of Rochester (NY), the paper reported: The boulevard before reaching Victoria Bridge is delightful and the mile ride across the St. Lawrence over Victoria Bridge is slow but enjoyable.

The bridge was known beyond New York state, as the Chicago Tribune reported on 10 August 1924: Closing of the Victoria Bridge at Montreal for five days last week brought out the fact that the bridge is used daily by from 700 to 1,200 vehicles, of which over 70 percent come from the United States.

The story was so well known that when David Bernard Mulligan died on 27 December 1954, his obituary began with: “David B. Mulligan, 83, dean of hotel men and veteran golfer credited with originating the extra tee shot term of ‘taking a Mulligan‘ died here today after a long illness.

But even before the expression was used in golf, it was used in cricket where a bad ball off the wicket could be replayed as a mulligan according to the  Colorado Springs Gazette of 19 April 1919. Obviously for it to appear in a news story in 1919, it had to be an accepted term to used in the news story with the expectation of being understood by readers.

Perhaps it’s nothing more than a fortunate coincidence that his last name was already associated with a meaning for mulligan that meant “to take a hard swing at a ball.‘ You see, in 1920, Babe Ruth was already being referred to in newspaper articles as a Swat Mulligan. How do we know this? On 13 March 1920, the Evening World News newspaper in New York City ran an article titled, “Long-Range Hit Record For Baseball and Golf Ruth’s Chief Ambition” the first paragraph began with this:

Famous “Babe” has natural form for walloping home runs, but on links he’s developed special style that drives the little ball over 300 yards – Yankees star confident of flashing new Swat Mulligan stuff this year in both baseball and golf.

Nearly a year before that, Walter Hagen was deemed the “Swat Mulligan” of the golf links according to the Evening World News of 13 June 1919.

Conditions that make most golfers go blooey only make Hagen play harder. He always seems to have something in reserve. He plays both with his head and great hitting strength. Famous as a long drive, a favorite Hagen trick is to let opponents lead him from the tee to the point where they start pressing in Anxiety to rub it in. Then the Detroit wizard simply lets out a few kinks and it’s good night for the foolish golfer who thought he could out-distance the Swat Mulligan of the links.

What is particularly interesting about these examples is that mulligans in golf in the Babe Ruth and Walter Hagen examples has nothing to do with the do-over version in the David Bernard Mulligan version.

A completely different version for the word mulligan comes from the Fresno Morning Republican newspaper in California in 1898 where the word was used as a stand-in term for any Irishman or Irishwoman.

And between the Babe Ruth and Walter Hagen definition and the Fresno Morning Republican definition, is the hobo slang definition of the early 1900s where mulligan refers to making use of whatever happens to be available at the time.

That being said, a mulligan in terms of a second chance to replace a first attempt that wasn’t to the person’s liking is pegged at the mid-1920s and David Bernard Mulligan. Of course, Idiomation will continue its research into the other variations of mulligan … for interest’s sake.

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