What if you have been playing golf for a few years, or even 10 or 20 years, and have yet to break 100?

What should you be doing now, with the scent of a new season wafting dreams into your 13-handicap mind that this will be the year you get below 100.

First off, give yourself a little credit. You have a spirit that can absorb torments that would drive most other mortals to join the Foreign Legion or take up grave digging for relief. As a boy, I remember caddying for a woman who played such wretched golf that a hot round was when she scored three triple bogeys. Yet, she was as cheerful walking off the 18th green while adding her score in the low 130s, as though she had just left Bloomingdale's after charging $1,000 worth of silk dresses to her rich husband. The other women in her foursome, as sour as wounded muskrats, would grunt malevolently because they still hadn't cured their slices. I knew then I had been exposed to one of life's secrets: cyou don't need talent to be happy if you have a talent for Being happy.

This woman and her golf game if you could call it that -- and none of the caddies I knew ever did -- were avoided by many at the club. But I was glad to get her bag. She had perfected every error ever committed on a golf course. She even shanked her divots.

But she was a treat: cheerful, carefree and as relaxed as though all of life was a deck chair and a sunny ocean breeze ever blowing into her smiling face.

It helped that she did indeed have a doting husband who loved to outfit her body in Oriental silkery. But her example is worth trying for. If you have yet to break 100, resign yourself to having golf be a pastime, not a sport. You should go to the golf course to get away from your troubles, not find new ones. If you don't you risk ending up like the unpopular Hemmingway in one of P. G. Wodehouse's stories: he was "one of those dark, subtle, sinister men who carry the book of rules in their bag, and make it their best club."

Assuming you are courageous enough to take my counsel on resignation, is it still hopeless to think about breaking 100?

Not at all. I know of almost a guaranteed method. Long ago -- on those sometimes 54 holes, of free golf -- I caddy day Mondays when I arrived at the course at 5:30 a.m. for a full day, discovered the secret of one knack golf.

To improve, master just one part of the game. Chipping, driving, putting, the short shots, whatever. The difference between the scratch player and you, the hacker, is that he has an all-around game and you have an all-limited game. To break 100, it's necessary only to remove one of these limitations.

This shouldn't be difficult, if only because it's hard to be bad at everything. All of us know someone who stands on the tee as if he had palsy on his backswing and lumbago on the downswing yet gets it out there 180 yards and in good position. He'll top his iron shot, pull his approach after that and finally slap it onto the green as though his pitching wedge were a hockey stick. Then he three-putts from 10 feet.

That's a 7, and the fellow might as well have been clam-digging. But his good drive kept the 7 from being a 10. By the end of the summer, if he keeps his driving skill where it was at the beginning of the summer, and his palsy and lumbago don't worsen, he has a chance of getting it below 100.

As they say in distance running, he has a base. He knows his tee shots are always going to be dependable. With that potential crisis taken out of his life, the other crises won't be so devastating. Like the runner who knows that he can do a respectable marthon without his bones rattling for weeks after -- because they haven't been rattling when he was building a base of eight- and 10-mile training runs -- the golfer who has one part of his golf game a little less potluck than all the other parts knows that he has a base.

Although I avoid hackers as much as routine politeness permits -- I have a sensitive sciatic nerve when I'm around 100-shooters -- on those punishing occasions when it's either play with them or not play at all, I've noticed in fact that driving is usually the worst part of their game. Their zip will be in chipping. People of scheming minds usually excel in chipping. Getting up and down is their way of getting something for nothing.

Or they are deadly with the seven iron. Often, they tell of their famous hole in one with old "lucky seven" and however since the club has done no wrong.

During the springtime, when I am full of advice and sympathy for those who, without my help and much less their own, will never break 100, I direct the undeveloped golfer to work on his putting. It's the one part of golf that is least like golf. The ball travels the least distance and the swing is the shortest. But the satisfaction of a canned 40-footer is the greatest.

And duffers do sink more 40-footers than the rest of us. They are pagans on the holy atmosphere of the putting green, ready to defile the sacred spirit of golf with their "here-goes-nothing" approach. They sink one from 40 feet and soon they knock in a 50-footer. They get a touch. They get confidence. And on a day when they've lost eight balls by the 12th hole they are so loose and easy that they are on their way to breaking 100 without even knowing it.