I used to imagine hell as a place where golfers in bright green pants and canary-yellow polo shirts stood around in steaming pools of molten lava with Coors Lights in their hands, talking about how they birdied this hole or used a 7-iron instead of a 9-iron to play that dogleg right and blah, blah, blah.
There would be other sub-species in hell, of course: Elvis impersonators and TV repairmen and mimes and accordion players, most of them relegated to the Kathie Lee Gifford Wing for the Truly Evil.
But mostly there would be golfers, hundreds of thousands of them paying for the sin of boring us all to death while on this earth.
Then about 18 months ago, while out jogging in an effort to alleviate the enormous stress of this job, I blew out my knee.
Staring at my X-rays the next day, my orthopedist shook his head slowly and said: "Your running and racquetball days are over. I'd think about taking up golf."
Looking out the window of his office at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, I could see the traffic moving slowly five stories below.
And I thought: "If I could just make it to that window and out on the ledge before he calls security, there would never again be talk of my playing golf."
But I chickened out. Now this summer, for the first time in my life, I'm actually playing golf.
I'm even . . . God, this is so hard to talk about . . . I'm even enjoying it.
Here, though, are a few observations and suggestions for anyone planning to take up the game:
* You know how when you watch the pros drive on TV, they have these wonderfully graceful swings, the club fully extended, ball exploding off the tee like a heat-seeking missile straight down the fairway?
Forget about ever doing that yourself. Normal people don't hit the ball nearly that well. Those pros are androids or something. Normal people swing like they're pitching hay onto a wagon and the ball goes maybe 60 yards before slicing into a cypress tree. This goes on for 20, 25, 30 years, and then they die and people stand around their casket saying: "I don't know how he ever stayed with that game. God, he was horrible!"
GLook, I'm not trying to turn you off the game. I'm just telling it like it is.
* Don't bother spending a lot on your first set of clubs. You're gonna stink no matter what.
Whether you go out there with a set of Venetian blinds or brand-new Wilson clubs -- the result will be the same.
* On a related note, you can use any kind of ball: Titleist, Top Flite, Slazenger -- what difference does it make? You're just going to plunk it in that pond and lose it anyway.
* As a novice, you'll have a host of well-meaning people tell you: "Take a few lessons first. That way you won't develop any bad habits."
Hah! Save your money, pal. I took a few lessons and look where it got me. It cost me $140 for five lessons. Now I'm a bitter, disillusioned man who needs a carton of Rolaids just to make it through the front nine.
* Here's good news: Golf clothing isn't nearly as bizarre as it used to be, when, if you had any pride at all, you wore a paper bag over your head if you wore that stuff.
Twenty years ago, I'd have rather worn a robin's-egg-blue leisure suit than plaid golf pants and a purple polyester shirt.
* On the other hand, most golf shoes still look like something Shecky Greene wore on stage at the Sahara in the early '70s.
* There comes a point as a novice when you have to cheat. For the good of society. If it's taking you four or five shots to get out of the rough, pick up the stupid ball and throw it toward the green.
Or else you'll just walk up to some innocent bystander and brain him with a 3-iron.
You know all these disgruntled postal workers who end up flipping out and shooting people? A lot of them are golfers. The government wants to keep that hush-hush, but it's true.
* Golfers are really into having things quiet. I'm not sure exactly why this is. But watching a typical foursome on a green, you'd think it was the Sistine Chapel.
During baseball's All-Star Game, I watched Jeff Conine hit a game-winning homer off a pitcher throwing 90 mph in front of 60,000 screaming fans.
But golfers will stare like you just exposed yourself if you even clear your throat while they putt.
* If things are going real bad, you can always chuck your bag under a tree and walk up to the clubhouse and start drinking a lot of beers.
And no one will think any worse of you.
I certainly won't.