Lee Elder, Jim (Distance) Dent, Mark Alwin, Glen Miller, Larry Ringer and Bob Bilbo head 16 professionals joining 13 amateurs, including Brad Pritchard, Wayne DeFrancesco, Glen Barrett, Greg Carpousis and Scott Inman, shooting for four spots in 36-hole sectional U.S. Open qualifying Tuesday at Army Navy Country Club in Arlington.

The survivors gain the 81st U.S. Open championship, June 18-21, to be played for the fourth time at Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pa., just outside Philadelphia.

Defending champion Jack Nicklaus is seeking an unprecedented fifth U.S. Open title. Nicklaus is among 52 exempt players in the starting field of 156.

Last year, no area players qualified (Elder played but did not have to qualify) for the Open at Baltusrol, mainly because the Kemper Open was two weeks before and touring pros stayed over and played in the sectionals at Argyle and Manor, pushing out the locals. Peter Jacobsen led the pack, helped by a "lights-out" course-record 62 at Argyle.

This year, the Kemper was three weeks before the Open and most PGA players moved on to the Atlanta Classic and will try to qualify for the Open in the Atlanta sectionals. Atlanta will have the largest qualifying field, with 144 players seeking 29 places. . . Elder's upcoming playing schedule includes the Westchester Classic (his last tour win in 1978), the U.S. Open (if he qualifies) and probably the British Open. He plans to skip the Memphis and Western tournaments and then will return to action for the Milwaukee Open. Elder said he is not sure about playing in the British Open in Sandwich, England, in July because European hotel bills exceed $100 a night these days. Last year, several American pros passed up the British Open because of high Scottish hotel bills around Muirfield. Tom Watson said last week at the Kemper that it costs about $40,000 in expenses to play the tour for a year.