Dave Mulligan’s legacy is deep.
Born David Bernard Mulligan in Canada in 1871, Mulligan would become a top player for his native country’s championship lacrosse team Capital, general manager for hockey’s Stanley Cup champion Ottawa Senators, and a popular toastmaster.
In New York City starting in 1911, Mulligan managed several respected Midtown Manhattan hotels, first at the Breslin on Broadway and including the original Waldorf-Astoria when it stood where the Empire State Building does today. He then became president of the hotel group that ran the major Grand Central Terminal-adjacent Biltmore, Commodore and Roosevelt hotels.
Among those Mulligan mentored was his father’s cousin M. Donald Grant, who would become co-owner and chairman of the board of baseball’s New York Mets for the team’s first 16 seasons. In the 1920s, Mulligan had convinced Grant to move from Canada to New York. Grant arrived in the city with less than $100, secured a job as a night manager at the Commodore, and went on to a successful Wall Street career.
Among those Mulligan fathered was Suzy Mulligan, an entertainer at Manhattan’s storied Stork Club who married and had two children with tennis’ 1931 Wimbledon men’s singles champion Sidney Wood.
But Mulligan’s most eternal contribution may be his popularization of the golf term “mulligan” to describe taking a do-over without penalty after an errant shot, with the Winged Foot Golf Club the term’s would-be birthplace. Located in Mamaroneck, New York, about a 20-minute drive from New York City’s northernmost border, the club is home to this week’s U.S. Open golf tournament.
Golf’s “mulligan” teed up “take a mulligan” and similar phrases, and has expanded to describe second chances outside of sports.
Three years ago, researcher Peter Jensen Brown conducted an interesting deep dive into the start of the term, and concluded that Dave Mulligan is among the candidates for fatherhood of the term. Some additional exploration by New York Sports Tours gives Mulligan another chance — a mulligan, perhaps — to be the leader in the clubhouse as the “mulligan” originator.
The June 1952 issue of Golf Digest, the magazine’s second national edition, included an interview with the genial Mulligan, who claimed that when he was in a foursome at Winged Foot, a do-over shot of his from the opening tee was the first to be deemed a “mulligan,” in his name.
Said Mulligan, a Winged Foot club member, “I called it ‘a Mulligan.’ Well, they laughed and let me play a second ball. But after the match, which we won by one point, there was considerable discussion in the clubhouse about that free shot. It all worked out amicably enough, but after that it became an unwritten rule in our foursome that you could take an extra shot on the first tee if you weren’t satisfied with your original. Naturally, this was always referred to as ‘taking a Mulligan.’ From that beginning I guess the practice spread, and the name with it.”
In his examination, Brown casts some doubt about the 1931 whereabouts of Lorenz Spindler, one of the members of the foursome. That year, the Detroit Free Press may have provided the first mention of mulligan with its golf meaning. “The earliest connection I could find between Spindler and Winged Foot is a best-ball tournament he played there in August 26, 1932,” Brown writes.
However, on August 28, 1930 — 14 months after Bobby Jones won the first of the six U.S. Open tournaments that have been staged at Winged Foot — a Brooklyn Daily Times article reports that the same Spindler is “among those entered” in a tournament at the club.
If any future findings debunk the claim that Winged Foot added mulligan to golf’s lexicon or about Mulligan’s role in that development, history already shows that Mulligan did spread the golf definition of the word with a tournament at Winged Foot, which helped cement the noun’s widespread acceptance.
As sportswriter Bill Westwick reported in a 1941 column item about an upcoming Winged Foot event, “In New York these days considerable publicity is being given the inauguration of a new type of golf tournament which will see precedence in Metropolitan golf clubs. It will be termed the annual Mulligan tournament, and the man who started it is none other that Dave Mulligan… The fact that Dave is president of the Biltmore Hotel in New York is well known, but he’s become better known lately in golfing circles as the first to recognize the long cherished ambition of every golfer to make up legitimately for some of those dubbed strokes.”
And although long considered a move unworthy of use in serious competition, the mulligan — and, as a result, Dave Mulligan — has gained some stature.
Last year in a professional golf tournament in North Carolina, in the final round of the Champions Tour’s SAS Championship, former Ryder Cup member Jasper Parnevik missed a short putt. The Swede’s ball had circled back and hit a shoe Parnevik was wearing. Parnevik then sank the next shot, but tournament officials wondered whether any rules should guide Parnevik’s unorthodox sequence. They called United States Golf Association rules official Brian Claar for help.
Unaware of such an occurrence at any previous professional event, Claar dug up an obscure rule. He explained that Parnevik should have replayed the first putt. The second putt counted, but the first carried a two-stroke penalty. Parnevik was penalized for not taking a do-over.
Admitted Claar, “He actually gets a mulligan.”
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