Merriam-Webster defines mulligan as “a free shot sometimes given a golfer in informal play when the previous shot was poorly played” and claims, somewhat to my surprise, that its first recorded use in English was in or around 1949.
Even more surprising is the word’s purported Montreal connection.
According to a recent episode of Says You!, mulligan derives from the family name of David Mulligan, a prominent Montreal businessman and manager of several hotels, including the Windsor. In the 1920s, Mulligan would give the other members of his foursome a lift to The Country Club of Montreal, located in current day St. Lambert, in his Briscoe touring car. One day, complaining that his brain was addled and hands numb from driving over the Victoria Bridge and the bumpy roads to the course, he was granted a do-over for a flubbed first tee shot, which he initially called a correction shot but which he and his partners later dubbed a mulligan.
A slightly different account, proffered by Mulligan’s second cousin, claims the hotelier was so busy he barely had enough time to squeeze in a round. As a result, he would have his cousin drive him to the south shore while he changed clothes in the car and then would rush to the first tee without taking time to catch his breath and focus, leading to a frequently blown first shot.
Other theories exist, though none as well documented or with their roots in Quebec.
And to answer the titular question, it depends on who you ask. The federal government’s terminology database, Termium Plus, says mulligan. Predictably, even as it acknowledges that mulligan is the term most francophone duffers actually use, the Office québécois de la langue française favours coup de reprise. Because English or something.