Taking a Mulligan

Golfers are an upstanding and trustworthy bunch, or so you would think.

This was tested by measuring a group of golfers’ use of mulligans.

A mulligan is supposedly named after a Canadian golfer called David Mulligan, who after hooking his tee shot during a round at Montreal Country Club petulantly gave himself what he called a correctional shot, without penalty. His playing partners preferred to call the cheat shot a mulligan and the name stuck and spread and today most golfers are familiar with the term.

Mulligans are never “legal” under the rules of golf although they often employed during friendly rounds or during charity golf days where the sale of mulligans is used as an additional fund-raiser. As golf in some ways mimics the rules of life, taking a mulligan without a penalty will always be viewed as a bit of a cheat.

So how likely are golfers (generally thought to be an upstanding bunch) to use this cheat when it hasn’t been agreed to? To establish this a representative group of golfers were asked to record the likelihood that they would take a mulligan if they could do so without being noticed. Firstly the golfers were asked if to rate the likelihood on the 1st tee. They were then also asked the question regarding their likelihood to take a mulligan on the 9th tee.

The results showed that 40% of golfers acknowledged that they would take a mulligan on the 1st tee but only 15% would do so on the 9th tee. Although both acts are equally prohibited, taking a mulligan on the 1st tee was justified on the grounds that “you can then start your round again and from then on start counting your score for real”. But if you’re on the 9th hole there is no way to pretend that the game has not yet started. This would mean that taking a mulligan on the 9th would require admitting that you are not counting the shot. And would somehow appear to be more at odds with the moral standards of the player.

This teaches us that just like on the golf course, in business any justifications for “cheating” needs to be dispelled and a no justification should lesson any act of cheating. There are no degrees of trust, reliability, dependability irrespective of the rationalization.