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Thursdays' Game
In Defense of Thursdays [by Tom Chiarella]

A calendar is a beautiful thing: that reliable grid, its lockstep progression from one box to the next. One week circles in on another, sure, and in some respects that may seem a little unrelenting, even grim. But to a golfer, every day of the week has its significance. You thank God it’s Friday, then sneak in 36. You crowd onto the golf course on Saturday with your regular foursome. You go to church on Sunday, then grab nine holes with your son. You dread Monday.

Tuesday, well, Tuesday is league night. Wednesday, you get over the hump with a bag of range balls. But I’m here to tell you that, for golfers, Thursday is what matters.

Personally, I like to practice on Thursday, dragging my bag from its niche, shouldering it up and heading for the range, which sits right at the end of the sixth hole at my little club. Things are always slow. This is just the fact of Thursday golf. The range stays uncrowded, or, better, empty. I aim my shots into my favorite tree. If I listen closely I can hear the highway. My dog sits near my shag bag. A bird flies over. In the distance I can hear blasting at the local quarry. I am a distant witness to commerce and nature alike.

When I was a kid I got this same feeling when staying home from school sick. These odd days granted me a fever-driven awareness of the way things went when I wasn’t there. I recall that I was amazed by how much motion and routine I was unaware of. Garbage men came and went. Repair men showed up. Game shows tumbled one to the next. My mother had coffee with women I had never seen or heard of. It was like I’d pulled back the curtain and looked behind the illusion of a day. I liked the world outside of school. Still, I knew I was a trespasser. I belonged somewhere else. But no matter how caught I was in my own routine at school, I discovered that world there went on without me.

So too with the golf course. The routine progresses. Mowers come and go. Greens are tended. Flagsticks are moved. The pro gives a lesson here and there in the shadow of the clubhouse. When I stand at the edge of all this, I am amazed that I would let myself forget, for even a day, the reliable industry of a golf course, its simmering quietude, its muffled rituals.

I name Thursday the last day of the golf week because on that day you can finally forget the weekend past: the distant Friday where you strung together three birdies for the first time in four years, the rainy Saturday when you sank a 60-foot snake for bogey on the 18th with no one watching, the Sunday scramble where no one could make a six-foot putt for the money. On Thursday, you are done with this. History. Thursday is where the golf week ends.

Even so, I’m saying Thursday is when it all begins. It is the alpha and omega of the golf week. It is as much a beginning as it is an end. You start planning the golf ahead. You puzzle a means of slipping out, setting things straight, of teeing up. On this day more than any other, the weekend beckons. Yes, last weekend is just a memory. But on this one page in your Daytimer, this one square in the grid of your life, the golf journey also takes its next, unlikely step forward.

You think about what lies ahead – the next round, the next course, the next foursome. It might work like this: First thing Thursday, you e-mail your friends to roust a foursome for the weekend. At lunch, you call for late tee times. In the afternoon, you juggle a few weekend commitments. And if all goes well, by day’s end, Thursday opens up the golf map for the next three or four days, if not beyond. For most golfers that’s about as close to golf as you get — this planning, this mapping, the certainty of 18 holes on the horizon to golf on a Thursday.
There are some for whom playing on Thursday seems wanton, a badge of greed, the imprimatur of excess. But it’s less about greed than it is about desire. But if you’re really smart, if you’re really hungry, if you really have the bug, you choose Thursday as the day to play, come hell or high water.

Playing on Thursday requires that the golfer be self-consciously intrepid, as it must be set up well in advance. Schedules must be juggled. You have to make the effort to break away. You have to justify to loved ones, employees, employers. But while your Tuesday league might be permanently in your book and the Sunday swing to the new course on the north side of town is something you’ve been looking forward to for a month, giving yourself a solitary round on Thursday is still possible.

Come on. Once in awhile, it’s downright necessary.

It’s important to be there on Thursday. It’s too easy to put the game away during the week. The calendar drives you to do so. Lunches pile up. The commute takes it out of you. Bills pile up. There are lunch meetings to be had. One day blends into the last. In some sense, every day is a Thursday when you’re at work. On a golf course, outside the various routines of work and play, Thursday really stands out.

On this Thursday I am proud to have slipped away from work. The sky is a silvery blue, the haze of springtime in its farthest reaches. My partner is an old guy whose house borders the eighth hole, and he’s out for a couple of holes while walking his dog. We are hitting into the seventh green from 90 yards out. It’s a shot I see two, sometimes three, times a week, a half wedge from a line of 20-year-old white pines. I come up short of the green routinely. Today we’re both short, and the old guy suggests we hit another, and we’re short again.

With that, he opens up his bag and dumps half a dozen balls on the ground at his feet. I’m going to hit it until I get it right. I look behind us. There is no one even close. So we hit, ball after ball. And soon, the way it always does when you grind out a problem on the golf course, the shot looks all that less intimidating. Finally, I stick one three feet from the pin, and it clings to its spot like it was born there. When I look up, the old guy is walking away, toward his house. The green is littered with 11 or 12 balls. He isn’t saying a word to me.
“You leaving?” I say. “Don’t forget your balls.”

With that he turns to me. “I’m just going inside,” he says. “To get us some orange juice.”
“Orange juice?” I say.

He turns and looks at me. “Sure. Don’t you want some?”

“Orange juice?”

“A big glass,” he says. “Be just a minute.” He looks up, and holds out his hands. “It’s Thursday. I don’t have anywhere to go. Do you?”

“Nope,” I say, allowing that on a Thursday there’s always somewhere else to be. Lunches, meetings, conferences, whatever the calendar calls for. But sometimes you have to be where you’re supposed to be: starting the calendar anew, on a Thursday, on a golf course, trespassing on your own best time.

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