As David Graham and Ben Crenshaw walked down the second fairway at Oakland Hills today at sundown, locked in what was supposed to be mortal combat for the PGA title, the red lights of the TV cameras switched off and they could be themselves.

These two, who epitomize the best human values in their game, are best of friends - students who appreciate the history and science of their game. Graham is perhaps the tour's most assiduous student of the theory and design of clubs, which one day will be his work.

Crenshaw is the foremost historian of his game among current players. Golf course design is his passion and the work he hopes to follow when his playing days end.

Graham, six years older at 33, threw his arm around Crenshaw as they strolled to their drives.They chatted and laughed as they walked.

Around them, 20,000 people were scrambling ahead, trying to get into position to see the next shot. "Go get him, Ben," one would yell. "You can do it, David," would answer another.

Graham and Crenshaw could not hear them. They were fighting their battle against harder opponents than each other. They were doing battle with themselves and their eternal enemy, the course. Their bond of common frustrations and humiliations at the hands of the cruelest game were far greater than their competitive frictions.

Today's sudden-death payoff between these men - neither had won a major golf championship, and both wanted it desperately - was a testimony to the character of both.

When Graham double-bogeyed the 72nd hole of regulation play to allow Crenshaw into the playoff, Crenshaw did not gloat. Far from it. At the first playoff tee, hard to believe, Crenshaw was consoling Graham and trying to tease him into cheering up and playing his best.

When Graham redeemed himself with saving puts at the first two playoff holes after Crenshaw seemed certain of victory, Crenshaw appeared genuinely delighted, as though it moved him to see his friend battle so nobly against their common foe, golf.

It was only after Graham had won that Crenshaw seemed to look within himself and realize that he had finished second again - the fourth time he has come within one shot of winning or tying for first in a major.

Actually, this long afternoon of sun and suffering was a garland for three men - Graham, Crenshaw and third-place finisher Rex Caldwell, the unknown who won hearts here. The common denominator of all three was their constant candor, their ability to show their emotions and not hide behind the platitudes of every game.

"It's strange," said Caldwell. "I didn't hit the ball as well today, but I did keep it in play. I couldn't get my irons close to the hole or get my putts in it - yet I didn't really play bad."

Those are the symptoms of a man who has avoided collapse, but has not yet achieved the icy self-mastery of a champion.

Graham, the Australian who always seems as exhausted as if he had just came back from a three-day kanagroo hunt; Crenshaw, with his wild recoveries from the undergrowth, and Caldwell, with his brilliantly vivid street terminology strait off the municipal links, were all worth getting to know this week.

"This is a great relief," said Graham, who has finished higher than 38th on the PGA money list once in his nine seasons on tour.

"I feel I've put a lot into the game. I quit school when I was 14 years old to play golf. My father swore that he would never speak to me again if I did it. He has kept his word. I have not spoken with him in 18 years.

"I turned pro at 16, although it took me another 10 years to actually win a tournament on the PGA tour. I have won all over the world - in the Far East, Europe and Australia, but, honestly, I don't feel like I've gotten full recognition or full benefits for it.

"There have been times including this year, when I felt perhaps I should go into golf club design full time and quit playing tour. I look a couple of years down the road and wonder what will happen.

"This is the crowning achievement of a lifetime."

Then Graham, usually so self-contained, so held within himself with his chain cigarette smoking and his nervous blinking under pressure, was presented with a huge bottle of champagne as tall as a golf club.

"Enough of this serious talk," said Graham, a happy bloke and a proud one to be sure. "Let's get into this booze, boys."