Dallas Maxwell's name reeks of golf, in the same clean, sharp way as Tom Watson's, with the same hint of Old South as Lanny Wadkins'. Give him a blonde wife named April, dress him in soft purple, name a line of clubs after him, and it would fit like a glove.

The fit is close enough, anyway. No wife, no clubs and no soft hues for Dallas Maxwell. But he is still a golf champion of sorts, and this summer, he became the reigning king of a version Washington usually plays just for giggles: miniature golf.

Last month, competing at a form of miniature golf called Putt-Putt with 41 others who misspent their youths, Maxwell earned the right to represent the Washington area at next year's World Putting Tournament.

Playing at the Putt-course in Rockville where he also works, Maxwell shot 28 for the first 18 holes, or eight under par. He backed that up with another 28 for the next 18 holes, which left him one stroke behind the leader. Maxwell finished with a pedestrian 31 on the third 18, but everyone else was even more pedestrian. He won by two strokes.

"I was jumping around. I just couldn't believe it," said Maxwell, 21, of Bethesda. "You see, I may not make a holes-in-one, but I don't make a lot of threes, either."

Maxwell's victory was all the more note-worthy because it was his first Putt-Putt qualifying tournament. Besides, his average of strokes per round is nowhere near the lowest in the Washington area.

Maxwell averages 32.07 strokes, or about four under par. Four putters have better averages at the Rockville course alone. Perhaps 20 outrank Maxwell at the area's three Putt-Putt courses.

As a result, Maxwell cannot be considered anything like the favorite when the Putt-Putt city championships are played this Sunday at the Rockville course.

"I always come out to win," said Maxwell, "and I hope to win that day." But he added, more honestly than many who've been bitten by the competitive bug, "I really don't expect to."

It would be hard to imagine the guy who beats him.

Dallas Maxwell has reduced Putt-Putt to a mechanical drill. He knows "the shot" for each of the 54 holes at the Rockville course. If Maxwell hits the proper spot on the proper rail - bip, blip, bop and plop - the balls is in. Nuthin' to it.

Maxwell has no secret other than practice, practice, practice.

He uses a "real" putter rather than the foreshortened version you or I would rent at the Putt-Putt course, and he uses a ball with a steel center rather than a cork center to get a truer roll. But so do all serious Putt-Putters.

Maxwell sometimes uses underspin, and sometimes overspin, depending on what he wants the ball to do on a particular hole. But he's not alone in that, either.

Nor is knowing the spot to hit on any one hole a jealously guarded secret. The "big timers" know all the spots, and they pass word through the Putt-Putt grapevine of anything new - a fresh carpet, a new coat of paint on a rail, a new chink in the cement foundation, anything that could turn a golf ball a few millimeters off course.

Still, hustling at Putt-Putt is fairly common. But the stakes, according to Maxwell, are low. The going rate is 50 cents a hole. "We can't afford any more," Maxwell says.

To play a round with Maxwell is to learn the meaning of humility.

"Now, how would you play this one?" he asks, as he steps up to one hole.

His companion studies things. They look simple and unthreatening enough. True, there are little hills, one on either side of the "fairway." But is is easy to trace an imaginary straight line from tee to cup.

Click. The shot looks true. But it slides past - way past. So does the second shot. And so does the third. The fourth goes down, but fours don't put putter's names in lights.

Now it is Maxwell's turn. He aims at a spot three feet away, along the left-hand rail. Click. He catches the spot exactly.

The ball bounces smoothly off the rail, over the right hand rail. It runs six inches past the hole. It gently kisses against the rear rail. It softly springs away. And just as it is about to run out of revolutions, it falls in the cup. A three-rail hole-in-one.

"Some of these holes, you really have to work to miss," says Maxwell. He claims he knew the shot was in the moment it hit the first rail in the right place. It's enough to make a grown man groan.

No formal score is kept, but Maxwell totes up seven holes-in-one in his first 18 holes, and five more on the second 18. He takes a three only twice. That's 10 under par. "Have to do better than that Sunday," says this intense, handsome young man - and one gets the sense he will, easily.

Still, Maxwell is not overreligious about his sport. Although he is contemplating a career as a Putt-Putt franchise holder, he is also studying computer science at Montgomery College Rockville. And although he picks up some change by gambling at the game, he knows that "you can't make a living at Putt-Putt."

"It's a strange sport," Maxwell said. "It's a lot more competitive than people think. Putt-Putt doesn't have the thrills and spills and dinosaurs. It's you that you're competing against.

"The average person thinks we're nuts, coming out here and practicing nine hours a day sometimes. And it can be aggravating. I've said I'm not going to putt again so many times . . ."

At which point, Dallas Maxwell putts. Slither, slither, bounce, bank. Off three rails, around the cup and in.

"Something about it gets you, though," he says, stepping off to retrieve his ball. "You can always get better."