To look at shy, birdlike Danny Edwards, the second-round leader in the Kemper Open, one would never guess the startling choice he faces, the decision that torments and teases him as he races toward his 30th birthday.

Should Edwards continue his 15-year obsession to become a great professional golfer, a goal that has always seemed both close at hand and disatressingly remote? Or should he follow the spectacular and unexpected gift he discovered three years ago, when he realized he may have the makings of a world-class race car driver?

Edwards knows he cannot postpone the decision indefinitely, that he can't continue to live two lives -- playing PGA tour one week, then driving 140 miles per hour and smashing into telephone poles on the Formula Ford circuit the next. The perplexity is obvious on his face. What is his truest talent, his correct career calling?

Should he drive for who, or putt for dough?

In moments of glory like those at Congressional Country Club, when he makes 11 birdies in two days and nails a pair of blazing 67s on the board for a two-shot lead in a $400,000 event, Edwards wonders how he even doubted his passion for golf.

After all, look at the quality quintet tied for second place at 136: Tom Weiskopf (68), Jim Simons (68), Craig Stadler (69), Howard Twitty (70) and Jack Newton (72). When you are leading the pack after two laps, it is time to start looking for the checkered flag, especially since Weiskopf, Stadler and Newton are three of the most mercurial, explosive, prone-to-temper-and-depression players among the tour's respected names.

The big boys, the cream of a curdled field, are almost all still in the hunt, with John Cook (72) at 137, Hale Irwin (68) and Lon Hinkle (69) at 139, and Tom Watson (69) and Tom Kite (70) at 140. But it is Edwards who has a right to eye the $72,000 first prize. That would buy a lot of sparkplugs.

Edwards' elegant iron play this afternoon led to four birdies from 15 feet or less, plus a dramatic save at the 14th when, after driving deep into the woods, he chipped out, then plunked a seven-iron shot inches from the hole for a par. Such excellence both pleased and puzzled Edwards, who stands 81st on the current money list, as though his favorite game were toying with him again, trying to confuse him further.

"I've been struggling, trying a new swing of the week at every tournament," said Edwards who, in seven years on tour, has won only one tournament and has fluctuated between the exempt and the rabbit world. "I want to find something that works for more than a couple days. What I've landed on now isn't working too bad. I've had five birds so far from less than three feet. Still, my consistency in striking the ball isn't even as good now as I seem to remember it was in college (at Oklahoma State). I can't even remember when the last time was that I led a gold tournament."

That is where the temptation of racing enters.

"All those years when I hit golf balls 350 days a year, I promised myself that when I finally made some money, I'd use it to do things I'd always wanted to do," said Edwards, who, at age 25, won $96,811, captured the Greater Greensboro Open and was 28th and climbing on the money list. Everything was on schedule. He could have his golf and eat a little autoracing cake, too.

But it wasn't that easy. The two sports subtly began to shift their identities.

"In golf, I haven't been in the hunt in so long," said Edwards wistfully. "That's why I'm going to enjoy the next two days so much.

"Racing's been good therapy for me, because there it's me who's the top dog, the front winner," said Edwards, who is second in points in the Midwestern Division of the Sportscar Club of America rankings after finishing first, second and fourth in races this year.

"I've had some pretty good little crashes," said the laconic 5-foot-10, 155-pounder who is thin as a one-iron and has no visible muscles despite somehow being an all-state high school basketball player. "At Elkhart (Wisconsin), I slid in the first turn, went through two cyclone fences and hit a telephone pole so I wouldn't go over a cliff 20 feet away.

"In another race, I hit a wall, spun 180 degrees, and ended up looking right back down the track. One driver froze, locked up his wheels and went right up over the top of me at about 70 miles per hour. The body of the car kind of pinned my head back against the roll bar," said Edwards, whose Formula Fords are the open-cockpit, open-wheeled kinds similar to low-slung Indy cars.

Does Edwards, whom Lou Graham facetiously calls "the best driver on tour," ever have any fear in a car? "Yes," he said. "When the lady in the courtesy car picks me up tonight to take me back to my hotel, I'll be worried."

Why would a man trade a good living among trees and flowers, where a serious injury is a sprained wrist, for the chance to maim himself?

"I would not try to argue that it's the smartest thing in the world," said Edwards.

But it is one of the most powerful lures. Racing has its hooks in Edwards. He will try to blend 29 golf tournaments and 11 races in his '81 schedule. While the rest of the golf world is at the U.S. Open next month, Edwards will be at the June Sprints.

"I'll race in front of 150,000 people on a day when there are more than 700 cars in various classes," said Edwards.

His real goal is to be one of the top six in his SCCA division, so he can be one of 42 drivers going for the national driving championships at Road Atlanta this summer.

Sudden success makes it hard for Edwards not to dream. After all, Formula Ford and Super Vee racing have, in recent years, become the testing grounds where Indianapolis 500 or high-powered Formula I racers have been discovered, groomed and sponsored.

"There are people who say I should race more.I've had a lot of success in a very short time," said Edwards, who has partial sponsorship from prestigious Roger Penske, but still foots $25,000 a year of his own bill. "Yes, maybe I could race at Indy some day or in Formula I (like Le Mans or Monte Carlo). It's hard to know."

Then Edwards snaps back to the hard choices of reality.

"I can't find my limits in both," he says flatly. "I'm concentrating in golf. Winning a tournament would be infinitely more satisfying than winning a race."

Buy why? When Edwards answers that, we see the real depth of his dilemma.

"It's the time involved. I've spent 15 years of my life on golf. I can't throw that away. It's what I've worked for," he says, almost pleadingly, as though his sudden racing success were suspect and unearned because it has come so fast and so easily. "Golf and racing are two pyramid professions which, financially speaking, are very narrow at the top. Very few people are making money compared to the number who are trying to. You couldn't expect to get to the top of both pyramids."

Ironically, because he does two difficult things very well, Edwards knows he is in constant danger of never doing either quite as well as he might.