The discussion was about the dues every gifted golfer must give his sport, the ones much more important than money about the levels of the game, about how maybe Abe Lincoln wouldn't be comfortable on the PGA tour even if he broke par every week. And Roger Maltbie was saying:

"It's got to hurt a little. There has to be a time when you scratch your head and wonder what the hell you're doing here. I honestly believe I was too successful too soon. Now I'm paying for it."

Tom Watson paid his dues by enduring choke charges while learning to win major tournaments; Jack Nicklaus suffered bitter insults while dethroning Arnold Palmer, who now chooses frequent embarrassment on the course rather than Hogan like dignity; the average pro realizes one victory - however modest it rarely comes before a dozen defeats.

"You take that chip that went in for par on No. 11 of the Hope last week, the shot that got me the win right after I'd hit a shank," said Bill Rogers. "A couple years ago I'd have blown everything, I'd have thought about that shank. I'd have hit another.And another. I was in position to win a couple times back then, in fact. And found a way to lose.

"But I used my depression to my advantage, kept working - and drumming into my head to treat a shot as a shot and a penalty as a penalty and to benefit from my mistakes.

"You see so many people wade through here (the tour) and never make it."

Maltbie, who joined the tour the same year as Rogers, is treading water at the moment. A winner twice his first year and winner of Nicklaus' first Memorial Tournament his second year, Maltbie barely stayed exempt last year and has won just $3,229.25 so far this year.

After shooting 80-73 and missing the cut in the Glen Campbell Los Angeles Open this week, Maltbie said: "You can't cruise out here - and that's what I did. I got caught up in all the attention I was getting, when it was news even if I played poorly.

"It was a mistake - and if I can correct it I'll be back. If I can't, I won't.

Then Maltbie talked of other dues, of tour realities and decided that the one word - beyond talent - that best described what one needed for success was "selfish."

"Yes, that's it," he said. "You've got to be selfish, with yourselfe and with your time. The egos out here are incredible. We all think we're better than what we are, by and large.

"I don't want to bad-mouth my fellow pros, but this is a very cold business. All anyone cares about is what he shot. It's a simple fact. That's it. A guy comes in and never asks you what you shot, unless he played well.

"And we all wear the same clothes. We say the same things. And behave the same way. We are like robots - and that's one of the things I don't like. We're darn near told what to say in public, what to wear, how we're to cut our hair."

Hair? Well, that was not much concern until Forrest Fezler recently began playing with a heard. The beard is well kept and seems not to interfere with his swing or touch around the green. Yet Fezler said a PGA official, Clyde Mangum, "suggested" he shave it off.

That was three weeks ago.

"I've had compliments, not complaints about it," he said. "You just have to be a little different, or you're nobody. Either you win $300,000, or have a beard. Besides, the dress code is not that clear."

What is clear is why Fezler grew the beard again, having shaved it once in December. He said: "In the second tournament of the year, at Phoenix, I was disqualified for an improper drop, although subsequently most of the golfers agreed they would have interpreted the ruling as I did.

"That's when I let the beard start to grow again."

Where has golf been all these years? Doesn't it realize sports settled the great hair debate a decade ago?

For all the money available, most pros will allow hand-held television cameras to disturb their backswings, announcers to traipse everywhere but into sand traps with them and tee off at all manner of ungentlemanly times. And to withold their usual personalities.

"This whole business can be a trap," said Maltbie. "You can make a bunch of money real fast, a whole boatload in a week, in fact. That's about what carries us along. The money."

Whether Maltbie or Fezler or some others with sharp opinions would be so open if they were atop the money list each week is open to question.

"I do whatever I feel like," Maltbie said. "I'm not going to change for the game of golf. Happiness is not necessarily making a three-footer."

And happiness is not necessarily becoming the next Nicklaus or Watson, according to the most recent young success, Bill Rogers.

"I'm not that hungry," said Rogers, who unlike Maltbie, is married. "Only because I'm a realist. There's only a handful of players who have been at that level - and only a few who ever will be.

"I do want to be a successful tour player, to win one or maybe two tournaments a year. Maybe a major sometime. But I don't anticipate superstardom. I like the level I'm on."