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Who is Mulligan, The Patron Saint of Forgiveness?

This is an excerpt from I Golf, Therefore I Am--Nuts! by George Fuller.

Quick, give me the most familiar name in golf. Hogan? Woods? Nicklaus? Palmer?

May I suggest Mulligan? It's a name invoked by most golfers during most games. But who has any clue whatsoever as to the identity of this mysterious patron saint of forgiveness? Well, don't feel alone. Neither does the person walking down the fairway next to you. Nor, for that matter, do most golf historians. Nor, I readily admit, did I.

The glossary of the late Peter Dobereiner's Golf Rules Explained seemed a logical place to start searching for answers. Dobereiner described the Mulligan as the "practice, quite unofficial, of allowing a player a ‘free' second drive when his first shot is unsatisfactory." Period, close quote. Nothing more? I mused.

So I consulted The Historical Dictionary of Golfing Terms: From 1500 to Present by Peter Davies. This book tells us that the origin of the term is "obscure" and quotes a 1960 Rex Lardner passage: "I don't even know if there was a Mulligan. But he gave his name to a wonderful gesture-letting you play a bad first drive over and no penalty."

Legendary golf professional Tommy Armour, less amused than Lardner by the concept of a do-over, was quoted in 1959 as saying, "When I first learned of a Mulligan in American golf I was astonished." Still, nothing on the origin of the term.My real clue that the subject matter would be a deepwater dive came when I queried the late guru of golf writers, Dick Taylor. "Mulligan?" he asked perplexedly. "Obscure. I'll ask around." He did-with no luck. I figured that if Taylor was stumped, I was into the murky stuff of golf.

My dictionary lists only Mulligan stew, an Irish beef concoction that doesn't seem to have much to do with golf (even though beefing on a golf course is an integral part of the game), and Gerry Mulligan, the great jazz musician who also has no connection to golf. Several Web sites proclaim that our patron saint was in fact a certain David Mulligan of Montreal, Canada. From what I gathered, Mr. Mulligan had the task of driving his foursome to St. Lambert Country Club in the 1920s, and since he had to wrestle the steering wheel over rough road, his fellow players allowed him an extra drive on the 1st tee. A fair trade for gas money, I suppose.

More Excerpts From I Golf