BECAUSE THE CASE was settled without a trial, the world may never know what really happened at the 17th green at Congressional Country Club on May 3. But some nasty rumors may be put to rest. It is not true that Dr. Sherman A. Thomas killed the Canada goose because it honked while he was putting. Dr. Thomas was making an approach shot when he encountered the bird. Then there's the charge that the goose was slain with a putter. Dr. Thomas has reportedly denied that and explained that after the bird was wounded, he put it out of its misery by -- what is there to say but "yecc" -- pulling off its head.

How did the goose become a goner? That central question has not been cleared up. According to Dr. Thomas, his errant golf ball had seriously hurt the bird, making a mercy killing necessary and humane. Last month his lawyers (Dr. Thomas') told a federal court that Dr. Thomas has no more reason to think he was acting illegally "than would a hiker who, after coming upon a robin with a hopelessly broken neck in the middle of the woods, simply put the bird out of its misery." Federal prosecutors said they could refute that version, presumably by showing that Dr. Thomas had really teed off on a perfectly healthy goose.

But now the two sides have reached a bargain. Dr. Thomas has paid a $500 fine for illegally "taking" a migratory bird out of season. And that raises some other questions. May a golfer take a goose -- as opposed to a birdie or an eagle -- in any season?Should Congressional Country Club be declared a wildlife preserve? Will the geese learn to wait their turn on the fairways, instead of trying to play through? Is Dr. Thomas going to be rebuked by the country club's board? And where did the victim disappear to? Was he cooked?