Land of the Free Tee, Home of the Brave
The breakfast ball isn't just another mulligan. It's a fresh start.
March 2, 2023
David Bernard Mulligan’s story goes something like this. The drive into his course was very bumpy. This being in the 1920s and Montreal after winter, the potholes were especially compromising riding on what one can only imagine was a vehicle with poor suspension. One day, his hands were still shaking on the first tee. His teeshot went wayward and he decided to re-hit. His playing partners were completely astounded; hitting two shots was unfathomable at the time. After the round, they coined it the “mulligan.”
Or take John “Buddy” Mulligan’s story from the 1930s. He was working grounds at a club in New Jersey when he was asked to join a game. Without warming up, he hit a poor opening drive. He turned to his partners and complained that they had had the luxury of a proper warm up, and because of that he should be granted a do-over. They shrugged, and the motion went, naturally, unopposed. A do-over was granted, and the “mulligan” was born.
Unfortunately, today “mulligan” is one of golf's most disgusting slurs. It’s so bad in fact that one doesn’t just nonchalantly toss it around, especially when playing with semi-serious golfers or when there is money on the line. But like all great compromises in the history of the world, we’ve compromised here, too. Instead of using “mulligan,” we’ve disguised it under “breakfast ball,” and saying “breakfast ball” is essentially on par with saying hello to your best lad.
Unfortunately, today “mulligan” is one of golf's most disgusting slurs.
And because the two Mulligans disrupted the game a hundred years ago, the embrace of the first tee do-over is alive and well, well into the 21st century. So much, in fact, that if you sat on a lawn chair on the first tee of any muni in the USA, you would hear “breakfast balls are in play” -- or some close variation -- pretty much all the time. And for the amateur golfer, hearing your partner announce that is like a big hug from Nanny, everything is going to be okay. I would even argue it’s the second greatest one-liner in golf history, behind only: “Here it comes...Oh. My. Goodness! Oh, wow!”
When is it appropriate for a breakfast ball? Maybe you haven’t quite dialed in the new $100 Craigslist find (a used 12-degree Nike Sasquatch medium-stiff graphite shaft with an oversized Dry-Tac Winn grip) and put one comfortably in the middle of the driving range. Or maybe you just over-swing to impress the ringer you flew in from Texas for the 9-hole big money Calcutta scramble and miss the ball.
Below are other examples of when I have seen a breakfast ball utilized (full disclosure: this is not a complete list):
1) You just want an extra swing
3) Over-served at breakfast
4) Inside-out-duck-hook into the woods
5) Over-the-top push fade OB
6) You’re a trending 24.1 HCP
7) First swing of the day
8) First swing of the week
9) First swing of the month
10) First swing of the year
11) First swing ever
12) First swing after 2-hour lunch in between rounds
13) 400th swing of the day (hands hurt)
14) Foot slipped (wet conditions)
15) Car horn (whiff)
16) Air horn (whiff)
17) Thunder clap (whiff)
18) Partner sneezes (whiff)
19) Playoff hole in darkness (hit two to be safe)
20) Show the group the new stinger you’ve been working on
Or maybe you absolutely pipe one and don’t even need it at all (uncommon).
Recently, I was in Charleston for a bachelor party. I asked the guys why they love breakfast balls. One answer, in particular, stuck with me. “Why do I love breakfast balls?” he said. “Because it’s a fresh start. That’s what a breakfast ball is. A fresh start. In life, there are no do-overs, but with a breakfast ball, there is a do-over, and that’s why I like them. We need to protect the democracy of this great game.”