The Kemper Open is graced by two Masters champions, a two-time winner of the U.S. Open, a PGA titlist and victors in the World Series of Golf, the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am, the Westchester Classic and the Poor Robert's.

Beg pardon?

For this week the last two years, and this week only, the one-day tournament named for the refreshment stand on Connecticut Avenue offers the same fringe benefit as the more famous and snooty affairs: a PGA tour exemption.

And as Buddy Peoples strides by sometime this afternoon at Congressional, offer a salute and good wishes. Though infinitely better, he is one of us, champion of everyone ordinarily not allowed inside the ropes.

Peoples is a working stiff who takes his golf seriously but plays for fun. And when that one-over 73 fetched victory in the Poor Robert's, he managed to rearrange his printing business to take a whack at such as Hale Irwin, Craig Stadler, Greg Norman and Lanny Wadkins.

"I have this fantasy, this recurring dream," said Poor Robert's owner Bobby Abbo. "It's a headline in Saturday's paper that says: 'Peoples Four Shots Up on Field.' "

Peoples also dreams, although not so wildly."It's a par-72 course, so my dream is shooting 144, or maybe 142," he said. "I dream about that every night."

A friend and fellow amateur, Michael Cumberpatch, snapped: "And then you'll play the second day, right?"

They were sitting in the clubhouse grill room yesterday, a table away from Gary Hallberg and Scott Hoch, happy that Peoples also can join them in the tournament proper.

The Poor Robert's standard bearer played a practice round Monday, striking the ball well enough to convince his caddy to tote his bag at least two more times.

Peoples was not part of the pro-am, although he has been both during quite a long golfing life. So his final tuneup consisted of putting and the finesse shots that figure to determine his fate.

You will recognize Peoples for what he is not: blond and a basher off the tee. At 35, he wears glasses and on some approach shots may be three clubs shorter than the pro sluggers.

His bag is not one of those leather condos stitched with the names of fancy resorts and overpriced equipment. His is more functional -- and endorsement-free.

Still, he ain't no duffer. Unlike most of us other amateurs, Peoples does not change shoes in the parking lot, pull out trashy balls on par-3s over water or have a loop in his putting stroke.

When he plays, our man of the people is a country clubber (Crofton) and hits practice shots before each round, "just to see which way it seems to be going that day."

Peoples insists he is not a professional amateur, one of those fellows who fits the job around golf and spends most of what he earns flitting about the country for rec-room trophies.

Before arriving at Congressional with the other Kemper players yesterday, Peoples tended to business by delivering to his customers invitations for some fund raisers, letterheads and business cards.

"The reason I do well now," he said, "is that I'm much more relaxed, play within my limits. It's a game for me, not a job.


For Peoples, the first golfing reality came in 1967, when he enrolled at the University of Florida on a partial scholarship. He was good, but not nearly good enough.

There was more competition than Peoples could manage when he arrived. When Andy North, Andy Bean and Gary Koch arrived in two years, any chance for Peoples to crack the four-man traveling squad vanished.

He has the graying, close-cropped, rather intense manner of an economics major who flew for the Navy.

Restless and unfulfilled as a golfer, Peoples was part of about every mini-tour from Delaware to Florida for more than two years in the mid-'70s.

He was erratic, winning the $3,000 entry money for one tour in two weeks and not a penny thereafter. His game and his life lacked discipline.

"I was having a good time," he admits. "Not practicing the right things. Not ever asking myself: 'Why are you playing so bad? Why are you losing strokes?' "

He reentered the amateur atmosphere in 1976. Golf now ranks about third among his priorities, behind a family that includes a 7-month-old son and 3-year-old daughter and Printing Options.

Much like the Crosby, the Poor Robert's began as an excuse for avid golfers to postpone more useful matters. The first prize list, 17 years ago, included a trophy for the humblest hacker, the 144 shooter over two rounds at a nine-hole layout.

The tournament remains a shotgun start and has expanded its field and charitable contributions. And the course is rugged Woodmont. Because of the Kemper exemption, Poor Robert's ranks among the area's majors.

"I'm not the type of guy who's gonna throw a 67 at anybody on this course," Peoples said. "But I ought to be around par. I'll be aiming at fairways and the middle of greens. Nothing fancy.

"In amateur golf, half the time all you have to do is wait for the other guy to screw up. Guys this week have hit 10,000 more practice balls than me, putted 100,000 more times.

"I'm very good at my job, but my job no longer is golf. I used to play every day. Now it's weekends, and maybe practice once or twice."

He starts on the 10th tee today, at 12:16 p.m. It is a short par-5, reachable in two shots, but Peoples plans to lay up with a club he cannot possibly hook or slice into danger.

"On a course like this," he says, an amateur with the attitude of a pro, "it's important where you miss."