Southern Hills proved too artful in the first day of the 77th U.S. Open here today and the leaders want up and down like yoyos with seven bunched at one-under-par 69 with 12 players still on the course.

Arnold Palmer just missed getting into the select group when his 15-foot putt on the 18th spun around the cup and stayed tantalizingly on the lip for a bogey, giving him a 70 for the day. The huge crowd yelled to Palmer, "wait, wait," hoping it would fall in. But he paid no attention ("I wasn't expecting an earthquake") and tapped it in.

The cluster of leaders at 69 included Rod Funseth, Terry Diehl, Larry Nelson, Hubert Green, Florentino Molina (Argentipa), Grier Jone and Tom Portzer.

Jack Nicklaus had a most-un-Nicklaus 74 which was matched by Sam Snead, the senior member of the tournement at 65. Snead was given an exemption to this tournament in deference to his years, Julius Boros, 57, who also got a free ticket, had a 77, Tommy Bolt, the third, member of the "elder statesman" list, was a late starter and was out in 39, four over par.

Jerry Pate, the defending champion, had a 72. Tom Weiskopf was on the seesaw. He started out five over par on the first three holes after a triple bogey on the par-four third hole. He picked up strokes from there and was even on the 16th but bogeyed the 17th an finished with 71.

Amateur David Zabell, a 24-year-old Ohio State student, had a two-under-par 34 for he first nine holes. He was one of the late starters.

In the early finishes, Bob E. Smith and Don Padgett joined Palmer at even par 70. There was a logjam at 71 with eight players tied there including Johnny Miller. Eight finished at 72. There were no fewer than 22 players tied at three-over 73. Lee Trevino, not regarded as a threat becuase of a bad back, had a 74.

Nicklaus, obviously disappointed with his 74, missed only three greens but found himself under trees, next to fences and in other spots usually double bogey 5 on the 207-yard 14th when his tee shot came to chip out on the fareway. He was on in three and two-putted.

Palmer said he didn't play particularly well. "I used to play a lot of rounds like, with four birdies and four bogeys," he said.

Washington's Lee Elder shot a seven-over-par 77 and said, "I was terrible."

Elder's 77 was matched by Baltimore's Doug Ballenger, former Maryland Open champion. George Graefe, who plays out of Fauqier Springs in Warrenton and the current Maryland Open king finished with a 38-38-76 in his first Open.

Elder seemed stunned that he did not do better over the rolling Southern Hills course which he had said was suited to his game.

"I have never been that erratic with the driver," he said. "I hit only four fairways. The driver felt heavy. Maybe I'll ty to take some weight out of it befor Friday's round. You can't score driving the way I did.

If I don't play better Friday, I'm going to skip the Western Open next week and I won't rejoin the tour until the Pleasant Valley Classic (Sutton, Mass.) July 14. You can't correct your faults by playing."

Elder didn't make a single birdie. He was out in 38 and home in 39. He bogeyed the second when he got in the rough. He missed a three-footer on the eighth and an eight-footer on the ninth for two more bogeys. He missed par on the 10th when he chipped past the hole and missed the comeback putt. A 10-footer missed on the 12th for another bogey. He bogeyed the 16th when he drove into the trees and the 18th when he made a poor chip 15 feet past the hole and two-putted.

Ballenger had 37-40. He got his only birdie on the first hole when he made a 30-footer. He bogeyed the third, fifth and seventh on the front side. He double bogeyed the 13th when he put the ball n water and the 17th when he left the ball in the trap on his second shot. he had rough problems on the 18th to finish with a bogey.

Graefe had four birdies, eight bogeys and one double bogey. The double bogey came at the par-four ninth when he got into the right rought on his roughon his drive, caught the trap on his second shot, blasted out, chipped 15 fet short, and two-putted. He hit only five fairways all day and his driver was giving him trouble.

"I'm not too unhappy," he said. "I just wish my driving was as good as my putting."