As rain clouds begin to assemble in earnest and the first drops pelt the seventh green, Tom Watson's tee shot lands a foot past the pin, bounces straight up, takes a supernatural spin backward to the left and misses the hole by an inch.

The applause has not yet died when Dan Halldorson's tee shot floats in just off the green, strikes the grass with a startling metallic "ping" and rockets off into a grove of pines.

"What was that?"

"Must have been a sprinkler head."

"That guy hit water on the last hole, didn't he?"

"Yep."

"Well, hell, if it starts to lightning, let's get away from him. He's gonna get hit."

It didn't lightning. And Halldorson, Manitoba's native son, even made par. But it rained, perforating the already sparse morning galleries. A steady rain is to a professional golf tournament what the first light of dawn is to a vampire. Belt beepers short out. Water slides off the umbrella ribs down the back of the collar of the man in front of you. Marshals move their lips without speaking.

On the other hand, beer and souvenir sales pick up dramatically as the spectators gallop for cover to the concession tents (also available, Kemper tournament telephones, not for use in the rain).

"Not a bad day, not a good day," says the woman behind the counter. "It comes in cycles, you know? With the good players come the good crowds." "

A portly man examines a shirt the color of a ripe lemon.

"Nine dollars?"

"Nineteen. Three for forty-nine."

"Forty-nine?" He didn't see the telephones.

The players -- slacks in shades of blooming fruit (lime, cherry), fine leather tans -- pretend it isn't raining. On the 14th green, surrounded by umbrellas in bloom like strange toadstools, Jack Newton stands firm in the torrent and lines up a putt. The rain is so thick you can barely see back up the fairway, where advance spectators from the Watson camp trudge on in their own trail of tears.

But Jack Newton doesn't feel it. Jack Newton on the green is as casual as a nine-year-old on a putt-putt course. Of course, he's way short -- the rain pulls the ball to a halt. He makes par and walks off, followed by his caddie, soaked to the skin.

"Want to wait for Watson?"

A father and son huddle beneath a large umbrella, both sitting on the bottom half of a cardboard beer box.

"If we move, we're going to lose the spot.

"If we stay, we're going to get wet."

"We're already wet." They stay.

After Watson putts out, six figures dart out of the crowd and run full speed back to their posts in the food tents. No one noticed they were missing.

Eventually, the rain gives way, leaving the morning quiet. Nothing in the high-decibel world of hockey, football and the rest prepares the uninitiated for the blanket of silence draped over Congressional's sea of green. With no concession lines, few spectators for the anonymous threesomes, it's so quiet you have to stop chewing gum when they putt. A beet can being crumpled on No. 8 sounds like a round of automatic rifle fire.

"You know," says a man with the morning's first (or second) Michelob, "this is about the only place in the world where you can come out and get eight hours of quiet. Of course, get a few beers in me, I've been known to make a little noise."

Conversation is discouraged. Don't ask questions. Don't tell elephant jokes. Unlike, say, the upper deck in Boston Garden during a Bruin game, the professional golf gallery prides itself on self-denial, on sublimitation of an emotional urge.

"Go," Get in there," "Sit down," all addressed to the ball in choked-off whispers, are the most exuberant outbursts -- save the odd greenside conversation:

"The house is next to a club I don't belong to, across the street from the course. But ideally I'd like a house on a course and on a lake."

"On a lake? Remember this: you buy into water, you buy into noise. We made that mistake. We're on a river. Now we have canoeists?" "Canoeists?"

"Canoeists. Keep you up at night."