June 4, 2023

The Sporting Life

As I have been moving ever closer to my dotage and growing used to my decreasing mobility which causes some of my neighbors to mistake me for a tree whenever they see me loitering outside, seemingly attempting to implant myself in the soil around my house, I have come to entertain myself by watching various sporting events on TV. After all, if life has become a spectator sport for me, why shouldn’t I indulge myself in the sports I loved and played in my youth – baseball, golf and especially tennis. Some of you might remember that for so many years until his retirement, I was an ardent Fedhead – that is, an avid follower of the great Roger Federer and would live and die watching him win thrilling tournaments and lose some heartbreaking ones.  

But watching sports has been mostly a lonely passion for me. Most of my remaining friends aren’t interested in sports, and although a couple of my kids sometimes follow golf or baseball, their involvement is nothing like mine. After all, they are busy and still have a life whereas I can only remember when I had one.

Nevertheless, although my girlfriend Lauren will sometimes watch tennis with me, she is easily distracted and will often wander off just at a crucial turning point in a game or tennis match. But when she’s not here, and I have watched something memorable or thrilling or terrible, I cannot restrain myself: I have to write her about what I’ve just witnessed.  

When I was a kid, I dreamt about being a sports journalist. And now, I seem to have become one, even though so far I have a very small readership, namely one, my long-suffering girlfriend.

But no more! I have decided to branch out. I want to include you among my followers, if you’re willing. Even if you’re not interested in sports, you might find some of my ravings entertaining. Anyway, I invite you to read on and let me know what you think.

I’ll begin with a note I sent to Lauren after the conclusion of a major golf tournament I spent one weekend recently watching….

Since I have to sit here for a while, I’ll just take the time to tell you a heartwarming story from yesterday’s golf tournament.

An old professional golf instructor from Southern California was eligible to play in this tournament. His name was Michael Block, and he’s 46 years old. In seven previous tournaments, he never made the cut. But the first day, to everyone’s surprise he finished with even par, 70. Quite an achievement as he was only a few strokes behind the leaders. And the next day, he did it again — finished with another 70. He was beginning to attract attention.  

The next day featured relentless rain almost all day, and most of the golfers struggled to make a good score in it. Most everyone failed. But not Michael — he shot a third straight 70, even in these miserable conditions. He was becoming the darling of the tournament. Everybody was talking about him now and not just the guys in the lead. Could he continue to astound?

The day dawned sunny and bright for the final round, but Michael bogied the first hole, just barely missing his putt. But he soon made a birdie and was even par again. He eventually was two over par when he came to the 13th hole (I think it was) when he made a hole in one! It was the only hole in one in the tournament. The fans went huts! He came to the last hole one over par. But if he could par the final hole, he would earn a special exemption that would allow him to play in next year’s PGA and other important tournaments.

In golf, it is traditional that all the fans gather around the 18th fairway as the final players approach the last hole. I watched him as he strolled toward the green, listening to the adulation of thousands of fans, cheering him and calling his name. Consider this: He had worked all these years in total obscurity; no one had heard of him. What a moment! Can you imagine how he felt taking that walk?

Still, he had work to do; he couldn’t allow himself to be distracted by the tumult around him or undone by his own emotions.

Nevertheless, he messed up, and his approach shot was way off the green. It looked hopeless. But he made an amazing shot to reach the green and had a 6-foot putt to make in order to par the hole.

Could he do it? The enormous crowd grew quiet as he hovered over the ball.   

The ball rolled gently toward the hole and had just enough energy left to topple into the cup. He had done it!

The crowd erupted! Michael bent over to retrieve the ball, overcome with emotion. He then ran into the crowd, found his wife (surrounded by his kids) and they joyfully embraced. He was crying. So were all of us.

He later said that this had been the greatest day of his life.  

This is why we watch golf.


Then just today – I’m writing this on May 31st – I was watching some tennis matches at the French Open, which is played on a clay surface. The great Rafael Nadal has “owned” this tournament for years – he is called the King of Clay -- having won it an astounding fourteen times, but this year he was injured and couldn’t compete, leaving the field wide open for somebody else for a change.  

The two matches I saw today were unforgettable. Read on and you’ll see why.  

Here’s the write-up of the first one I sent to Lauren shortly after it concluded. I entitled it “A Shocker at Rolland Garros” (the tournament is named after a French pilot).

Ever hear of a 23-year-old Brazilian player with the improbable but memorable name of Thiago Seyboth Wild?  

Of course not; nobody has. And in tennis he is a nobody, ranked #172 in the world. Eight times he’s tried to quality for a major tournament; failed every time. Finally, he gets into the first round at Roland Garros. And who is his opponent? Medvedev, the 2nd ranked player in the world and one of the co-favorites to win the tournament.

I was still sleeping when the match started, but when I checked the scores, I found that the Brazilian had actually won the first set in a tie-break, but lost the second in another tie-break, and then the third set, 6-2, so it looked as if that would be the end of the line for him. But not so fast, Sherlock.

I saw he was actually up 3-0 in the fourth set. What? I was still in my bathrobe, not even having had the time to take a shower, but I put everything on hold to check out the match.

Thiago, as I will now call him, was soon broken, so they were back on serve, so, again, I thought that would be it for him, but no! He broke back and went on to win the set, 6-3 — to the cheers of the crowd. So it would come down to the fifth and final set.

And it started great for Thiago; he broke Medvedev again in the first game. But soon Medvedev had broken back to knot the set at 2-all. But each player kept losing his serve (there would be five breaks of serve in this set). Finally, Thiago broke again and now was serving for the match!

He won the first three points and was on the cusp of triumph, but then lost the next two. The next rally was exciting and he made some tremendous shots, and finally — finally (after well more than 4 hours) — he prevailed! Wow!

Of course, the crowd went nuts.

Afterward in the interview with him, I learned this. He had actually begun to cramp in the second set when he had a lead in the tie-break (and had set point) but then lost. And lost badly in the third set before storming back to win. He had never beaten a top ten player or played a five set match in his life, much less at the center court at Roland Garros before a huge crowd.  

He’s very personable, too, speaks perfect English, is handsome and not that tall — a charmer. If he keeps this up, he will become the Michael Block of Roland Garros.


But thrilling as that match was, the best was still to come – the featured night match. After it was over and I had recovered from the enormous emotion that it had engendered, I couldn’t wait to write Lauren about it: 

OMG, I just finished watching one of the most incredible and improbable comebacks of all times. Listen up.  

First, the back story. Gael Monfils, a Black French tennis player, has long been one of the most entertaining, colorful and beloved of all French players. He has always been a great fan favorite, and for many years. But now he’s old, 36, and in recent years, he always runs out of breath and pants as a match goes on. His legs, like mine, just ain’t what they used to be. And during the last year, it’s been even worse for him. He had to take off almost the entire year because of a foot injury and when he returned, he didn’t win a single match, even when not playing in the top circuit. I think he lost 8 in a row, and his ranking slipped all the way down to 394 whereas he had been close to a top ten player for many years and even at Roland Garros had been a semi-finalist. I think it was because of that and because he is so beloved, that he was allowed to play in this tournament. And even was the showcase attraction for the night session, an honor, which just concluded. His opponent was a young rising star from Argentina named Baez. The match was supposed to be kind of a farewell appearance for Monfils.

But he really wanted to play tonight for a special reason. He and his wife, another tennis player who had won her match earlier, just had a baby daughter, their first child, who was in the stands. Monfils, as a newly minted father, really wanted to play for her, as he said afterward.

As expected, he lost the first set, 6-3, but somehow managed to win the second by the same score. I wasn’t watching, but decided watch the third set. It went back and forth and Monfils was already laboring, but by a miracle, he pulled ahead at the end and managed to hold both his nerve and his serve, and won the set, 7-5, to a cheering and ecstatic crowd.  

But by now he was clearly spent, and obviously out of gas. Everyone figured the match was over, especially when his opponent won the fourth set easily, 6-1. I wasn’t watching anymore, but saw that his opponent was sweeping to victory in the final set and was up, I believe, 4-0, when I checked on the Internet. Clearly, Monfils was done. I went back to doing e-mail.

But when I checked again, he had managed to claw back, and was now behind 4-5, with his opponent serving for the match.

I decided I had better watch. And by the time I was, Monfils had somehow managed to break Baez’s serve, and now it was 5-5. Incredible. But Monfils was in trouble. He could hardly stand. He was limping and in obvious pain. Despite his injury, he — by some miracle —  was able to hold his serve. It was now 6-5, with the other guy serving. 

By now, Monfils was just hobbling around. He took extra time and was penalized for it. The game went back and forth, and finally it looked as if it was headed for a 10-point tie-break that Monfiis would not be able to withstand. But he drew on his reserves to get to match point. The crowd was screaming. Nevertheless, he lost the next point, and it was deuce again. But he won the next point to get to a second match point. He was about to lose the next rally, but by an act of God, he made a passing shot down the line to win — game, set, match. It was over.

A great broad smile broke across his glistening face, as he raised his hands in victory to thunderous applause. After his shook this opponent’s hand, he collapsed on the court and sobbed uncontrollably, as I’m sure many of the crowd did.

It was probably the greatest and most improbable comeback in this tournament’s history. And so deeply moving. A match for the ages.

Today started with the Medvedev upset by that young Brazilian and ended with the old Frenchman coming back from the dead for one last hurrah. In a couple of days, Monfils will play that Danish brat [his name is Holger Rune], now one of the favorites to win the tournament, and Monfils will surely lose. But what he did today will never be forgotten by French fans and all those who have followed and loved Gael Monfils all these years.


This is why Ken watches sports. A boy always needs heroes to look up to. So does an old man who can still thrill when he is a witness to other old (and sometimes very young) men who defy the odds to perform miracles while large crowds cheer and weep with joy.


  1. I'm glad to hear that you enjoy watching sports on TV. Heads up on the PGA Memorial Golf Tournament this afternoon from my neck of the woods. I live about one mile from the course. Jack Nicklaus started this tournament years ago and he is a perfectionist when it comes to the course and the tournament. Oh the stories my sons could tell as they both worked there during their college days. Jack has done so much for our community, and we are very proud that such a major tournament is in our backyard. The only drawback will be tonight when everyone is partying and the music and fireworks will be so loud that I won't be able to sleep. I hope whoever you are rooting for will win. Enjoy!

  2. Brian Anthony KraemerJune 4, 2023 at 1:36 PM

    Ken, I wish I knew your professional life well enough to give a blow by blow account of some of the most memorable moments in your career. In a tennis match, a ball is hit back and forth across a net until one player fails to return it, but in your intellectual "tennis matches" you "hit the ball" back and forth with thousands of both laymen and professionals, small private conversations and with well known celebrities like Larry King. You were interviewed at length by Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove and New York Times writer, Sharon L. Bass. The effort that went into each one of your books was unfathomable. No one will (in this world anyway) know the time and effort and precision you put into your many interviews, journal articles, both lay and professional, and your multitude of books, not only on near-death experiences, but Palestine, UFOs, Camille Saint-Saens, and of course your recent blogging career.

    You have interviewed fascinating people who have "seen," though they were born blind, during their near-death experiences and reported amazing details of their out-of-body experiences during drowning, comas, surgery, and so on. You have enjoyed an enviable life of insight and productivity and love and intimacy. I so care for and respect you and I hope that every day is one of some measure of intrigue and pleasure and that when your heart beats its final time that the Bible verse that says, "Better is the day of one's death than the day of one's birth," will prove itself true. Largely because of your writings, I am convinced that there is only life, life, life, step over, more life, more life. Peace my friend.

  3. Hi Ken, Alan Church here. I hope you remember me from the middle 60’s at UConn . I took your social psych course as an undergraduate in 64 and then in the fall of 65 you admitted me as a part-time grad student to help me avoid the draft. I took one course a semester for a while until Sur Corey (Michel’s wife)took me you were going to kick me out if I didn’t drop

  4. Out,which I did. Which was fine as I was descending into a major depression which lasted 6 months, and was unable to concentrate in class was wasn’t ever going to be able to go full time. And clinical was my interest and I finally got my degree some years later at U of Ky.
    Anyway, I’m writing to ask you which of your books presents the best evidence for NDEs. Got lessons from the light some years ago but haven’t started it yet. I’ve had a firm belief for some time that there is nothing after death but the fact that you do -I always respected you greatly as a scientist- gives me pause. Thanks , Alan

  5. You can write me at alan.church@me.com.