This is a tale of a veteran American golfer, who has been playing the European professional golf tour this season.

Rafe Botts, 42, lived his first 23 years in Washington, D.C.He became infatuated with golf at age 13, when he started caddying at Langston golf course. That longtime spawning ground of black golfers is across the street from Spingarn High School, where he was a classmate of basket-ball star Elgin Baylor in the class of '56.

Segregation made it impossible for him to play many top-notch amateur tournaments as a youngster, but he developed his game at Langston and then started playing tournaments run by the black United Golf Association (UGA) - whose tour was dominated by his friend, Lee Elder, always a somewhat more talented and considerably more self-controlled player.

"The most instrumental man in my golf career was Dr. Kenneth G. Brown, who still practices medicine on 13th Street NW," recalled Botts. "He was the president of the UGA, and he'd take me around to tournaments with him.

"He took me to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Kansas City, all over. Without his help, I wouldn't have gotten to play any tournaments at all, because my parents didn't know anything about golf. They thought I was nuts, spending so much time at it."

In 1956-57, Botts worked as a proshop attendant at Burning Tree Club, where President Eisenhower played regularly, and he struck up a friendship with vice president Richard Nixon.

"Nixon had just started playing golf at the time, and he came out to Burning Tree practically every evening," Botts remembered. "He played with William Rogers, and sometimes with Sherman Adams. They were all complete biginners, but they were there all the time - probably because Ike played.

"It was part of my job to lock up the shop every night and then I'd walk down River Road to catch a bus home, or hitchhike, or ride home with thecook from the club. One night Nixon saw me in the parking lot and asked me where I was going. I told him I lived in Northeast, off Massachusetts Avenue.

"He said, 'Come on, get in, I'll give you a ride to the White House, and you can get a bus from there.'

"I remember that first night the chauffeur told me to sit up front with him, but Nixon said, 'No, come back here and sit with me. I want to talk to you.'

"We became quite friendly after that. He gave me a ride into town most nights, and sometimes he let the chauffeur take me home after he dropped him off. It was quite a thrill for an 18-year old kid from Northeast, getting driven to his door in the vice president's limousine.

"I've heard all the stories about what a cold man Nixon was, but he was always very, very kind to me. He offered to arrange a presidental appointment to the Naval Academy for me, but when he told me that I'd have to serve four years in the Navy afterwards, I blocked that right out. I wanted to play professional golf.

"I said, 'Couldn't I just go there four years, like any other college, and be done with it? Maybe I could fly commercial aircraft later on.' He said no, if I went to the Academy, I'd have to serve four years after I got my commission."

Botts decided instead to move to Los Angeles in 1959, the better to seek fame and fortune as a golfer. Clubs there were not segregated, and he was able to obtain a handicap for the first time and enter the National Public Links championship.

He turned pro in 1961 and obtained a card to play on the U.S. tour, but after five months was drafted into the army. It retrospect, four years as an officer in naval aviation didn't look so bad.

After his discharge in 1963, he went back on tour. He lost his card in 1967, but gained it back that fall, at the PGA's first qualifying school.

For most of the next decade, Botts was the archetypal "rabbit" on the U.S. tour, hippity-hopping across the country for nerve-wracking Monday qualifying rounds, scraping out a living in the sport's low-rent district. His best results on the tour were fourth-place finishes in the Pensacola Open in 1970 and the Quad-Cities Open in 1974.

"I always had difficulty finding proper sponsorship to play the tour the right way," said Botts, a genial man whose former wife and 13-year-old daughter live in Los Angeles, but who still has strong attachments (seven brothers, three sisters, "countless" aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews) in Washington.

"I used to drive 40,000 to 50,000 miles a year to play the tour. It was the only way I knew because it was the only way I could afford. Many times, for example, I drove straight through from Tucson, at the end of the West Coast swing, to Miami, to start the tournaments in the East.

"I realize now that I was saving in the wrong place. It was economical, but it wasn't functional. I found it difficult to play well after driving 18 to 20 hours straight. By the time I got to a tournament, I was dead. Even if I qualified, the guys who flew and were well rested always buried me."

Botts lost his tour card most recently in 1977, a year he could afford to play only 13 tournaments. He went back to the qualifying school that fall, but failed to regain his playing privileges.

Last year, he went halfway around the world and played in New Zealand for three months. This year he decided to come to Europe, earned his card, and played nine tournaments. He made money in five, but his prize winnings of about $1,600 were far exceeded by his expenses, which totaled more than $7,000.

After shooting 80-77 and missing the cut at the Welsh Classic last week, Botts flew home for a rest. He is not sure when he will return to Europe.

"I usually spend money until it's all gone, and then I know it's time to go home for awhile," he says.

But he is sure he will be back. Definitely. For Rafe Botts - who says he plans to play pro golf for another 20 years, and fully expects to be a better player at 62 than he is at 42 - hope springs eternal.

"In the long run, I want to get back on the U.S. tour. If you've played there as long as I have, you never really want to play anywhere else," he says.

"I'm in Europe because I can't play well enough right now to earn a living on the American tour, and there's no sense trying to grind it out if you can't make a living at it.

"I am playing well enough to make a living at golf in Europe, and when I start playing better, I can make a good living. I'm 81st on the Order of Merit here now, and the top 150 players retain their cards for next year, so I'm okay. But when I make enough money, I'll go back to the U.S.

"A lot of times the British and European players will say to me, 'Rafe, don't you like it better over here? Isn't it a lot more friendly?' Maybe it is, but I'm basically a pretty friendly person, anyway, and it's not friendliness I'm looking for on the golf course. I'm trying to become a better player and increase my earning power.

"Maybe it's because I didn't get enough coaching when I was a kid to really sort everything out and become a great player that I still have the same desire now that I did when I was 15. All I really want out of life is to be a great golfer. Money is important because it takes money to live, but most of all I'm looking for my reward for all the time and effort I've put in, and I think I'm very close to it. I don't think the reward is very far off."