Two hours after his "magic" had ended, George Burns was on the practice tee at Congressional Country Club.

He was trying to find something better. Or some way to keep whatever bolt of golfing genius that hit him yesterday bottled as long as possible.

That was a dream round Burns struck in the first round of the Kemper Open. Nobody playing for serious money and not getting a bunch of handicap strokes had ever done anything of the sort. Tommy Jacobs also shot 64 at Congressional, during the Ken Venturi Open in '64, but par was two strokes lower then.

Eight under on one of the country's premier courses. With an ace using a club most of us can't swing straight and two other iron shots that came within a foot or so of also diving into the hole. Higher than a kite and, yippee, four shots lower than Tom Kite, the craftsman he so admires. But others celebrated more than Burns. As music wafted from a clubhouse party, as some pals were getting pinched for the hole-in-one drinks everyone figured Burns owed them for that two-iron wizardry on No. 16, the man of the day still had not stopped punching his personal time clock.

Burns knows how suddenly such brilliance can go sour. That's the us in him, the teensy bit of duffer that intrudes at the most dramatic times and reduces him to being one of golf's streakiest players and winner of a measly $874,274.20 during eight years on tour.

Hackers who have to bounce shots in off trees to break 90 could not comprehend Burns' postround attitude.

It took him at least five minutes to break into a smile about that 215-yard hole in one. And he was asking scribes, guys who would fly by 64 strokes somewhere short of the 13th green, if his swing looked all right.

It certainly did.

It hasn't for a long time.

In the past, his elbow has done naughty things from takeaway to impact; complicated exits off freeways often have fewer loops than his backswing.

But Burns also putts lights out sometimes. Which is why he is capable of leading after three rounds of the '81 U.S. Open at another classic course, Merion, and doing indecent things to Pebble Beach now and then.

The problem is that, as Burns nears the top of golf's mountain, some flaws develop somewhere around the top of his swing. At such moments, he plays just enough like Frank Burns to let others slip by in the majors.

He came to Congressional with what he feels is enough new knowledge about himself and his game, from a dear and trusted friend, to scale the summit.


Maybe here.

Maybe not.

That is why Burns was tapping his clubs against a bucket of range balls at dusk yesterday instead of tapping his foot to music somebody else was playing in his honor.

Straight-faced, Burns says he could stroll away from golf now and be content. That's after he has talked about searching so long for a swing that will carry him through fire.

Or at least through four rounds and victory.

By his standards, Burns arrived here in a slump. He has won only $35,805.88 this year, with a third at Doral.

The rest of the year has been spent overcoming all manner of illnesses and nursing a stress fracture suffered while getting healthy by jogging.

And hoping this latest teacher is his golf guru.

Burns came to his sport rather late. Most of his peers were on the practice range at their respective colleges when Burns was roaming the range off course at Maryland.

For reasons about which he does not elaborate, Burns thanks the former Terrapins golf coach, Frank Cronin, "for keeping me in school and out of Vietnam."

Of those swings he most covets, the ones that have not failed in Opens and other tough times, Burns begins with Jack Nicklaus and sails through Tom Watson and Jerry Pate and . . .

Wait a second.

Did the man say Pate?

Sure did.

Funny about that. One of the stars who had risen higher and fallen even lower than Burns lately was Pate.

This was his first tournament in nearly three months, the result of an injury while retooling his game for the British Open last July.

A $300,000 pain in the neck is what it was, a muscle that drifts from the neck through the left shoulder that took violent exception to being called to duty and caused him and several medical specialists such anxiety.

"Physical therapy twice a day, 8 o'clock in the morning to 5 o'clock in the afternoon for about 35 or 40 days," he said.

"I mean, it gets old. But I stuck with it. We had a plan, 60 days of not hitting any balls. Lifting weights, swimming, running. Ultra-sound, ultra-electrical shock. You name it, I had it.

"First time I could hit was on Friday. A Friday the 13th."

Lucky Friday the 13th.

"Hit the ball as good as I ever hit it," said the man who has won two majors (the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open) and another (the Tournament Players Championship) that should be.

"Nothing but pitching wedges and nine-irons. That's all I hit. Hadn't hit a shot for 62 days . . . and that caddie didn't move.

"One of the pros was laughing about that, saying, 'You better take off more.' I'd forgotten any bad habits. My mind was telling my body what to do, and the muscles just followed."


"And the last couple of days," he added, "I've hit it off the practice tee as well as I have in a long time."

Before most of Washington was on its first coffee break, Jerry Pate, 191st on the money list, winner of $1,765.38 this year, hit his first competitive shot since missing the cut in mid-March in New Orleans.

Not a bad comeback.

When he stopped thinking too much and got his driver to behave, Pate erased two bogeys with three birds and strode off the course with a one-under 71.

Which was wonderful, everything considered, but which also sort of melted later under the scorched-earth tactics of Burns.

So now we have the man with a sweet swing shaking his head in near awe at a man searching for one. Burns probably senses that all that late practice will not be especially beneficial.

Talking so much about finding the swing generally means a player is trying to make himself believe it more than others.

Burns will know more soon, possible by late Sunday, if he has a game to bank on or one that still causes him to beat banks near greens in frustration.

What it is, George, is exactly what Jerry says: "let the mind tell the body what to do and believe the muscles will obey."

Simple advice, and about as hard to execute as 64.