Other golf tournaments require preparation. The Masters demands an elaborate battle plan of psychic self-defense for every minute of every day from the moment a player arrives here.

Above all its other subtle weapons, the Masters makes war on the Golfer's mind because it is different in every possible detail from all other tournaments in the world.

From the moment a player strolls through the tiny, elegant Augusta airport with its exposed-brick walkways amidst flower gardens, the golfer-that creature of absolute ritual-is faced with an opulent, yet almost alien transformation of the game he though was familiar.

The Masters' enormous self-importance is its most fascinating strategic element. Every attempt has been made to make the passing of the green coat seem like the bestowing of a royal robe to end a coronation. Aspirants to that golf throne must not only cope with a 7,000-yard course but with a seven-day ordeal of mounting tension.

"If you let it, the Masters will play you, instead of you playing it," says contender Joe Ihnman. "Augusta National can pamper you right off the bottom of the scoreboard."

"No event in golf requires so much preparation," says five-time champion Jack Nicklaus.

The methods for meeting the Masters are numberless, from the trivial to the fundamental to the Bizarre. From housing accommodations to practice-range routine to theory of the game, no facet of the Masters Week is too obscure to avoid exhaustive study.

Past Champion Charles Coody, for instance, goes to bed exactly 12 hours before his tee time - whether that means 9:08 p.m. or 1:40 a.m.

Former touring pro Bert Yancey stayed at the home of a family named Masters and built clay scale models of the famous swaybacked Augusta greens so he could learn their "feel."

Two schools of thought predominate on how to master Augusta: Treat it with pretense of indiffernece, rowing toward the green coat goal with back seemingly turned, or else, like Nicklaus, court the course with infinite attention and special treatment.

"It takes years to play well here," says Inman. "My first time as an amateur on the first three holes I hit three trees and a little old lady . . .

"You run the gamut of mishaps. Finally, you remember everything it's done to you in the past and learn your lessons. Even then, it can still get you anytime and anywhere.

"Returning to Augusta is like that movie 'Same Time Next Year.' It's like visiting an old friend. You look for a new wrinkle in the face, you learn something new each time."

Most players throw themselves into Augusta's arms and do things the Masters way-at least for a few years. Many players rent private homes from townspeople, arrive at the course as much as a week early for practice rounds, pound thousands of practice balls - perhaps struggling to master the elusive high hook shot that lore claims is the secret to Masters green.

Gradually, each player develops his private code of dos and don'ts, each modeled to his own emotional weaknesses.

"I've never felt Augusta pressure . . . yet," says first-round leader Bruce Lietzke. "I separate myself from the tension atmosphere that the players see and try to immerse myself in the vacation spirit of the whole event.

"I bring my whole family down here and even my home pro," says Lietzke. "I look at it as a family week, a fun week. Instead of wracking my nerves, I kind of sneak up on it. I stay away from the other players for one week, just put my feet up and watch TV at night. I'm determined to make it a pleasant week."

For the same reasons, Lanny Wadkins had decided to do the exact opposite.

"I've stopped staying in homes and gone back to the Augusta Hilton," says Wadkins. "I want to make it just like any other week on the tour-hotel room, yell for room service when you want it. I'm pumped up too much to risk driving it a notch higher by doing everthing differently.

"I don't want to worry about little things-breaking somebody's china, burning a hole in the rug. I want to feel in control."

Lee Trevino, who once said. "I start choking as soon as I ride down Magnolia Lane," has stopped living in a rented house and taken a condominium in West Lake.

"Lee discovered that the people who own houses sometimes think it would be all right to bring a few friends over to 'meet Lee' on Saturday night," says a friend of Trevino. "After all, they own the house. How can you tell 'em they can't come back in their own front door?"

Nicklaus, as in so many things, has worked out a unique and psychologically subtle approach to Augusta finetuning. The Golden Bear, who already knows more nuances of the course than any current top players, still plays three to four practice rounds-often with members or his son, Jack Jr.-the week before the tournament. He laughs, jokes, but keeps his eye peeled. Then he returns to his Florida home for two days to "clear my mind, so I won't get jaded," before returning in time to start his annual hunt for a new spring wardrobe.

Last week, Nicklaus walked to the top of a hideous mound on the right-back of the par-3 sixth green-a spot that looked like a whale graveyard. "I've never been up here," he remembers thinking, "and I never should be. But what if I was?"

So Nicklaus practiced an apparently murderous 35 to 40-foot putt that drops as steeply downhill as could be imagined.

"If you hit it like it looks, you'll go off the green and four-putt maybe," he said. "If you just touch it, the contour of the green takes it right to the hole."

So Thursday, Nicklaus, for the first time in 17 Masters, found himself in exactly that spot with exactly that pin placement.

"I could hardly believe it," he ways. "I picked a cleat mark three feet in front of the ball and tapped the ball so it would just go three feet to the crest of the rise. It rolled the last 35 feet downhill by itself and just lipped out of the cup."

Instead of a probable three-putt bogey or even a four-putt, Nicklaus' fore-thought saved his a par that was almost an amazing birdie.

The Nicklaus Method has led many astray. Tom Watson tried saturation practice in '76 after winning the Masters the year before.

"You can be so serious," he says. "that you can overpractice. I wore the feeling right out of my hands by beating so many balls that year.

"You've got to find a happy medium in everything this week. . . how much to practice, how much family to have down, how many special guests. I think I've got a good feeling for it now."

Another big Jack dictum, practice the long game twice as much as the short game for Augusta, has deceived many players.

"A lot of us neglect the putting emphasis," says a chagrined Bill Kratzert. "Like, for instance, me. I took 35 shots from tee to green today. Just 35 blows, but I took 38 putts, including four on the ninth when I putted it back into the fairway."

The technical swing skills needed for Augusta are so clearly defined that many a player will revamp his game-either weeks or days in advance. For years, Nicklaus would start tinkering with an occasional hook in January so that in April he could draw the ball down holes 2, 8, 9, 10 and 13, the ones that reward right-to-left action.

Others are more bedeviled by a more fundamental Masters demand-distance.

"Gotta be long," says Inman, with a moan. "Last year I had 16 birdies on the par-3s and 4s-probably the most in history here. But I only had three birds on the par-5s where the big boys make hay. If Ray Floyd could have played my second shots to all the par-5s, we'd have been 25 under par and burned down the course record." Instead, Inman was eighth.

This year, slim Joe has tried every driver shaft strength on the rack until he has one that gives him an extra 15 yards.

"This course was built for a thinking man with muscles," he says. "Well, I finally got over the water with my second shot on 15 for the first time in my life." And he chuckles, feeling a nonexistent biceps.

Every player searches for a psychological boost, like Inman's switch from an "X" to a whippier "S" shaft, or relies on an old superstition.

"I always buy something expensive on Masters week for luck," says Arnold Palmer's wife Winnie.

What did she get this year?

"Groceries," she answers.

Early in Masters week, the superstitions and quirks are few. Some take advantage of the Augusta dispensation that players are allowed to use practice range balls of their own preference-rather than one specific brand of new balls supplied by the tournament sponsor.

But, as the week goes on, preparatory idiosyncrasies grow.

Billy Casper searched out a Mormon church at which he could give a Sunday morning sermon before trying to win for the glory to the Lord. By Sunday afternoon, however, the most universal reverence is for the color green, and those shades, of the spectrum that go well with it.

Nicklaus, for instance, has his ensemble - one that would look suitable with a green blazer - chosen for him by ad executives six months in advance.

"They let me pick the socks, but my wife Barbara has to do that since I'm colorblind," he says.

"No detail is too small to pay attention to this week," says Inman. "The human mind is the most powerful thing in this world and the scientists say we only use 10 percent of it. Well, I'm sure that's certain in golf. You've got more electrical connections in your head than a whole city. You'll do anything to keep 'em from going blooey on you in the crunch."

One rule of life is constant here throughout the fortnight of golf worship. The limited night life of Augusta is for tourists only. Never do so many professional athletes go to bed by 10 or 11 p.m. Dave Hill holds the beddybye record with a nightly 9:30 p.m. trip to dreamland.

Sometimes the Masters can seem like a convention of 72 monks, who are holding services amidst 30,000 revelers.

The epitome of this cloistered Masters life can be found in a seldom-seen room in the clubhouse.

Up the steep attic stairs of the Augusta National clubhouse, above the exclusive second-floor grill where the truly elite look down at the merely rich on the veranda, perches a small alcove called the Crow's Nest.

From Nciklaus to Jerry Pate, the future champions of the sport have slept here in the quaint whitewashed dormitory cubbyholes under the roof. It is a rite of austerity for the young novitiates.

The Crow's Nest - how many it seen?-has six beds. The only other piece of furniture is a bookshelf. It holds a vast variety of titles - vast, that is, within the universe of sand traps and water hazards: "Mind Over Golf," "Golf is a Four-letter Word," "Golfers at Law."

For anyone wishing to read something other than a golf instruction book in English, there is one other volume-a golf manual in Japanese.

The ethics of the Masters, the unique problem of mental and emotional preparation that it presents, is condensed in that spartan little room, Golf, it seems to say, is the whole of life - the entire bookshelf.

No wonder that no resident of the Grow's Nest has ever won the Masters. It's a wonder they don't fall down those precarious steps.

As older heads have learned, the Masters cannot be played, and won, on its own reverential terms. Those who have learned how to build their own week-long coat of emotional armor have the best chance of surviving Augusta's gantlet of luxurious tortures. CAPTION: Picture, Ed Sneed sinks a birdie putt on 17th hole en route to a round of 67 and a nine-under-par total of 135 after two rounds of the Masters. Sneed finished his round before rain halted play for two hours, UPI*