My relationship with Ken started with a bad rental car. My wife and I were beginning a weeks vacation in Colorado and, true to my nature, I booked the cheapest car I could get. When we arrived at the rental car facility there was no attendant to be found.  When we found him he was locked in a discussion with another customer for 15 minutes. 35 minutes after walking on the lot, we drove off with a car we could only hope would last for the week.

That night we made the commitment that when we can back we had to show up to the airport an hour early to make sure the one employee was off his smoke break to check our car in and that when the rental car shuttle didn’t show up we could Uber to the airport. Fortunately, we would have to do neither. When we arrived after our vacation we easily checked our car in and the shuttle was waiting for us with one other passenger. That passenger would change my life and golf game for the next 4 years.

Wally Armstrong was sitting alone on that shuttle wearing a PGA hat. I took one look at it and made the same dumb joke I’d been making about my golf game for decades.

“My pro says I’m not good enough to get that mad.”

Wally laughed and said, “That’s a line from my book.” Several years back he teamed with Ken Blanchard to write a book called The Mulligan. It’s about an executive who learns that even though he his drive for success had derailed his priorities and his relationships, he could have a second chance because Jesus is the ultimate mulligan. Before I left that rental car shuttle, I had two copies of the book signed to me and my son and Wally and I had exchanged email addresses and phone numbers. When he found out I lived in San Diego he said, “You should golf with my friend Ken.”

In that moment I was grateful for the decision to book that sketchy rental car. God had arranged that meeting. I devoured my copy of The Mulligan in two days.  It was filled with great golf tips and simple life wisdom. I would highly recommend you get a copy of it.

Two weeks later I was driving to my son’s wedding rehearsal when I noticed I had a voicemail. It was from Ken Blanchard. “Is this the famous pastor. My friend Wally Armstrong said we should golf together. Are you available next Wednesday?” I was dumbfounded. I had read several books by Ken including his landmark book, The One Minute Manager, and couldn’t fathom how someone this accomplished would have time to spend an afternoon with a pastor he had never met. I quickly called him back and we set up a time to golf 9 holes with two of his friends at Oaks North golf course, a beautiful little executive course near Ken’s house. In the meantime I did a google search of Ken and found that he is in Amazon’s top 25 non fiction authors of all time.

Ken’s 61 books have sold over 21 million copies

That phone conversation started a golf relationship that lasted 3 years until I moved out of the area. Ken golfs every Wednesday with friends and somehow I ended up on the A list. Trust me it wasn’t my golfing ability. Ken got a front row seat to errant shots and an occasional thrown club. He also handed out mulligan’s like candy on Halloween. I got so many mulligan’s he started saying, “We should call Mulligan’s Jacks because he takes so many.”

Over those four years I was privileged to sit in a golf cart next to one of the wisest and kindest people I would ever meet. The life lessons just came from him naturally like best selling business books. Let me give you a couple lessons my friend taught me.

If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will

When I started golfing with Ken I noticed a peculiar habit he had as he teed off. The first notice was that if the hole was over a hundred yards, he would always go with the driver. In his heyday Ken was a scratch golfer, but in his 80’s he has lost some distance. As Ken stepped up with his driver he would clap several times and then pat himself on the back and then take his swing. His shots weren’t long but he was almost always straight. After observing his pre-swing routine several times I asked him what he was doing. He told me that his friend Tony Robbin’s told him “If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will.”

Ken was filled with stories of famous people like Tony. I heard tales of adventures with Super Bowl winning coach Don Shula, chatting with Brene Brown, “What a great gal,” and writing with Norman Vincent Peale. Ken is not a name dropper. He just happens to be friends with a who’s who of Wikipedia. Which leads me to the second lesson I learned from Ken.

Speak kindly about everyone

There wasn’t a person that Ken spoke of that he didn’t speak kindly of. If he mentioned a celebrity he couldn’t finish the story without telling me what a great person they were. He had something positive to say about the guy who checked out our golf cart and the lady who made his post golf root beer float. Even when I pushed a putt 10 feet past the hole Ken would retort, “Well, you got a full turn on that one.” There was a company that worked with Ken that suddenly cut off the relationship with Ken in a hurtful way. Still Ken regaled the leader of the organization for his accomplishments. Always giving out mulligans.

I don’t believe I have ever met a person who was that positive, that consistently

I’m a fairly positive person, but I’ll be honest, I couldn’t keep up with Ken. It’s hard for me to stay up beat, especially when I felt like I had been treated unjustly. Several years back I was on my way to perform a wedding ceremony when I felt an intense shooting pain in my back. The pain was so bad and so scary that I pulled over into a Starbucks parking lot and called 911. As I waited for the ambulance I texted the couple that I didn’t think I was going to make it.

Their first texts were kind as the couple implored me to fight through the pain to make the ceremony, but when it became obvious I wasn’t going to make it the texts got ugly. I tried to explain and even shot them back a picture of me in the ambulance, but nothing I did could get them to understand the intense pain I was in. They also posted my first ever bad Yelp review of my wedding business.

That next week I was on the tee box with Ken and I told him the story, sure that he would agree with me about how I had been wronged. Ken simply said, “Have you reached back out to the couple? You don’t have to say you were wrong, just acknowledge how hard that must have been for them on their wedding day.”

When I got done with another round of golf including multiple mulligans, I decided to give it a shot. I told the couple I was so sorry what happened and that it must have been difficult for them on their wedding day of all days. The couple responded back with grace and understanding and even told me they would take down the bad Yelp review. I had received yet another mulligan. Which leads me to another lesson from my mentor.

As far as it depends on you be at peace with all people

Today is Ken’s birthday and I wanted to write this to say thank you. Thank you for the wisdom. Thank you for the life lessons. When you called me, you often said like you did the first time you called, “Is this the famous pastor?” I’m anything but famous, but you always treated me as if I were. You led with grace, compassion, and encouragement. I will carry these lessons with me for a lifetime and hope that in my small way I can be as generous with mulligans as you have been.