Memoir Writing Tiny Tip #7: You Deserve a Mulligan

by Matilda Butler on December 6, 2016

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #232 – Memoir Writing Tiny Tip – Matilda Butler

Tiny Tip #7 Just for You

This is the seventh in a newish and irregular series of short blog posts designed to get you to focus on just one small point. I call them Tiny Tips.

Scroll to the bottom if you are interested in how this series came to be.

Case in Point:

As writers, we are often hard on ourselves. Too hard. “This writing isn’t good enough.” “I didn’t write as much as I planned. I’m such a loser.” “I should just give up. This memoir won’t ever be good.” You probably have your own well-rehearsed criticisms of yourself and your writing.

But what if you learned you could have a do-over? You could write a new opening to your chapter or memoir vignette. You could create a new outline. You could accept that the chapter you are working on isn’t going well and know you can start a fresh edit and improve it.

For the fun of it, call this your personal Mulligan. If you play golf, you already know this term. If not, here’s a bit of history. Well, actually two versions of history. No one seems to know which story is the correct one. You probably have some family stories that are like this. The story has so many variations that no one is sure exactly what happened. Here’s your lesson about a Mulligan.

The USGA, and supported by research by, found the Mulligan became rooted in the game’s lexicon sometime between the late 1920s and mid-1930s. During that period, Canadian-born amateur David Bernard Mulligan had established himself as a prominent member of clubs that included Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

In the late 1920s, Mulligan had a regular club foursome. He often drove to the course in a 1920s vintage Briscoe, a touring car.

Once on the first tee, the story goes, his partners allowed him to hit a second ball after mishitting his drive. Mulligan complained that his hands were still numb after driving rough roads and a bumpy Queen Victoria Jubilee Bridge (now Victoria Bridge).

Mulligan joined Winged Foot Golf Club sometime between 1932 and 1933. A generation later, in July 1985, journalist Don Mackintosh interviewed Mulligan for a column, “Around the Sport Circuit.”

Said Mulligan: “I was so provoked with myself that, on impulse, I stooped over and put down another ball. 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.”

His playing partner asked what he called that.

“Thinking fast, I told him that I called it a ‘Mulligan.’ They laughed and let me play a second ball. After the match, which Mulligan and Spindler 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.”

Such a tale appears to be on solid footing, though USGA research hints there’s wiggle room for another “Mulligan.”

John A. “Buddy” Mulligan, a locker room attendant in the 1930s at Essex Fells CC, N.J., would finish cleaning the locker room and, if no other members appeared, play a round with assistant professional, Dave O’Connell and a club member, Des Sullivan (later golf editor of The Newark Evening News).

One day, Mulligan’s opening tee shot was bad and he beseeched O’Connell and Sullivan to allow another shot since they “had been practicing all morning,” and he had not. After the round, Mulligan proudly exclaimed to the members in his locker room for months how he received an extra shot.

The members loved it and soon began giving themselves “Mulligans” in honor of Buddy Mulligan. Sullivan began using the term in his golf pieces in The Newark Evening News. NBC’s “Today Show” ran the story in 2005.

Which version is true? I certainly don’t know and I’m not sure that it matters. What does matter is the concept that it’s all right to give yourself a second chance, a do-over, a Mulligan. So plant the concept of a Memoir Mulligan firmly in your set of attitudes. It’s just fine to keep working on your memoir–to start-over when necessary, to take a different shot at it.

You deserve a Memoir Mulligan.

And that’s what you need to do.

After Thought. If you aren’t using the concept of a Mulligan in your life, start now. It works in golf. It works in memoir. And it can work in your life.

How This Tiny Tip Series Started

The idea for a series of short writing tips came to me while reading the program notes for a chamber music concert. I realized that many (well, ok, most) of my blog articles get to be long and often require you to do certain things — like write from prompts I’ve provided. And while I will continue with this type of longer article because I think they are of value, I realized that sometimes as writers we just want a little bit of information or a small new idea or a thought stated differently. We don’t have a lot of time.

That’s the concept behind each Tiny Tip. Just a nugget to give you something to think about as you go through your busy day.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Frances Dunn January 2, 2017 at

Thank you for a great “Tiny Tip.” I’m a golfer, so yes I’ve taken a “Mulligan” occasionally. Yes, I believe a writing “do-over” is more than OK, sometimes it’s necessary to edit and re-edit until you feel good about what you’ve written. I did not know the history of the “Mulligan,” but it made my day!
Best wishes,

Matilda Butler January 2, 2017 at

Hi Frances:
I’m delighted that you found this Tiny Tip to be helpful — and meaningful for you. I’m in Hawaii right now and watch golfers regularly. The next one that goes by, I’ll think of you out on a course taking one of your infrequent Mulligans.

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