Golf may be the sport of the Tom Watsons and Fuzzy Zoellers, the eternal Sarazen and the young-old Palmer. But it's everybody's game, too, everybody, that is, who cares to take up the challenge, which can involve, Bobby Jones said, "a load of heartache." No doubt that's why Jones, the amateur ideal, often treated golf rivals like friends. Jones liked to win, but he also liked the camaraderie, and the joy that went with the heartache.

This is the time of year when amateurs seek the game's full experience, and in recent days some of the area's best -- men, women and juniors -- competed not just for stakes but satisfaction. While the competition was sharp, grace and good feeling abounded. FRANK EMMET SCHOOLBOY

Some of the best golf anyone could hope to see is seen by virtually no one. It's played by juniors, who often are given tee times when the only signs of life on a course are birds and stray insomniacs.

On a recent morning at the annual Frank Emmet Schoolboy, at Manor Country Club in Norbeck, an occasional mother or father or brother or friend -- only very good friends get out that early -- followed the high school boys on their rounds. It was a perfect morning -- blue sky and bright sun, low humidity, a cool breeze.

Manor looked lush, the course and the surroundings. Large brick homes, beneath tall trees, occupied the edges of the fairways. One had an American flag out front, another a large umbrella on a patio, another a small children's gym set -- a vintage American-dream setting.

Manor's front nine is tight, narrow hallways of green flanked by trees. One can't be just a big hitter, he must be accurate, and this especially suits Mike Watson, a recent Wootton High School graduate. Watson, 17, the defending champion in this match-play tournament, was shooting one under par in the quarterfinal round as he came to No. 9 with the dew still heavy.

Watson's bag was carried by his Wootton coach, Jack Weiland. Tom Dunn, from O'Connell, carried his own clubs. No one followed the pair until Watson's older brother Joe came along at the ninth. "I've watched him the last five years," said Joe Watson, who was an assistant pro in Florida for a time. "He's a tough player."

He has the temperament, too. Experiencing his first difficulty of the round on the dogleg-right ninth, Watson drove among trees to the left, then on his second shot hit a tree off the fairway, landing in a bunker. Crack. Thunk. One measure of a good golfer, especially a good young one, is how he reacts to distress. Watson merely moved on resolutely. Of course, it helped to be still 4 up.

At the 152-yard 11th, a scenic but treacherous little par 3 with an elevated tee and a small green surrounded by three deep traps and fronted by a large pond, Watson put an almost perfect iron about six feet from the pin as brother Joe implored the ball to "get in the hole, get in the hole!" Besides carrying the water, the shot soared over a man on a tractor, cutting the grass. One doesn't see the lawn doctors at the Masters or the Kemper, but the juniors sometimes play around them. "That ball should have gone in the hole," the man on the tractor observed.

Remarkably, Watson did put the ball into the 11th hole with his tee shot during his semifinal afternoon round, the first ace of his life, but during the morning had to settle for par after missing the putt. Still, he took that hole and the next, when he ran in a six-foot birdie putt, downhill. On No. 13, he closed out Dunn, the Emmet runner-up a year ago, and headed back to the clubhouse to think about his afternoon round, which he also won. On Thursday, Fred Widicus of Jefferson High beat Watson for the title.

This August, Watson plans to enroll at Odessa, a Texas junior college, on a golf scholarship, with the hope of going on to the University of Florida, or Texas, or maybe Houston, golf powers all.

"You've got to go in that direction for golf," said Joe.

"Can't wait," said Mike. NORTHERN VIRGINIA AMATEUR

The final minutes before a shotgun start have a frenetic look, though usually everything is orderly. So it was at Hidden Creek, in Reston, before the opening round of the Virginia State Golf Association's Northern Virginia Amateur, three days of medal play. Two men drove golf balls into a net, and about 50 others swarmed on the practice green. Carts by the score were lined up, ready to take everyone to his appointed opening hole. It looked like the start at Indianapolis, golf-cart version.

Gill FitzHugh, 38, of Army Navy, the defending champion, walked out to No. 11 to meet his partners, John Price of International and Jim Millar of Washington Golf. No. 11, they agreed, was a fair hole, yet not the best to start from because it was a par 5 with a fairway that sloped sharply right to left, like a table tilted. It was very relaxed and cordial at the tee.

"You can lead it off." "It'll be the last time today." "Well, let's have some fun, gentlemen." "That's right." "Why not?"

The gun sounded in the distance, signaling the start.

The slender, gray-haired FitzHugh immediately drove into a creek bed. Could this have been the Hidden Creek, of the course's name? "I do not remember that creek being there," he said, walking down a hill. Unplayable, he determined, peering down at his ball, situated between large rocks.

Off to the right of the 12th tee, up a high-grass hill toward a big sky, one got a rural sense. Like Reston itself, Hidden Creek had the feel of being carved out of the countryside.

Waiting for the group ahead to move along, FitzHugh, who works at the General Accounting Office, said, "I practice a lot, I'm embarrassed to say" -- in conversation, he mixed a gentle humor with self-effacement. "My 4-year-old son comes with me. I can't wait until he gets a little older." FitzHugh is the older brother of Woody FitzHugh, a pro. "I caddied for him in the first round of the Kemper," said Gill, "and people asked me if I was his father. He doesn't have any gray hair."

On No. 12, a par 4, FitzHugh's second shot found a bunker. Walking up the next fairway, he said, "If I have trouble with my game, I go see Woody. I saw him this morning. Obviously, he didn't help."

Price was one under and playing superbly. And Millar recorded a private triumph, lofting a beautiful approach to the 15th green that split a small space between trees. "Sometimes when you have a shot like that, you forget your fundamentals," he said. "You've just got to tell yourself you can do it. Only, it took me till I was 28 to find that out."

Having lifted his ball from the cup at 14, FitzHugh came off the green saying, "My theory holds. If you play enough holes you can make a par." A dark cloud hovered, but FitzHugh's spirits were brightening. He recovered nicely for a 75, Price took a 76, and the two made the cut. WOMEN'S DISTRICT

You could feel the prematch tension one morning at International, hard by Route 50, near Dulles Airport. This was, after all, for the match-play Women's District Golf Association championship, and it had come down to Sharon Briggs of Montgomery Village and Brenda Seymour of Hidden Creek. At the first tee, as a small gallery assembled, the referee introduced the players, the forward observers and the cart drivers, and gave final instructions.

She reminded Briggs and Seymour that "the referee is the law of golf," and also declared, "We will not tolerate slow play."

"Have a good day, girls," someone said.

Clearly, Briggs and Seymour had been anxious to start. Briggs had taken out a stick of gum and been shaking her arms a bit, as if to warm up. Seymour, dressed in purple, smiled and greeted a few bystanders but didn't look nearly as relaxed as she did when she sank a birdie putt from the fringe on the first hole. "I just like to get out there and go," she said later.

Briggs won the next two holes, then they traded five holes. Seymour, whose husband Henry owns the Northern Virginia Golf Center, where she spends time on the range, outdrove Briggs most of the time, although she is smaller. "Oh, she's just a doll," said a friend of Seymour's, following along.

The pin placement at five was fiendish, near the front edge of the green, which was guarded by water. It invited the kind of heartache Bobby Jones must have meant. Indeed, the sound of a splash followed Seymour's approach shot.

And on the seventh, she drove so far to the left she left herself no shot at the green. There went that hole, too. "Okay, Sharon, hop in there with both feet now," said a Briggs fan standing on a hillside.

Though she won the hole, Briggs just missed a short birdie putt. "Too bad about that," said one of three men watching. "She didn't need it, but it helps the morale."

On the next green, Seymour's morale soared. She sank a curving, downhill putt of 13 feet, the kind of shot that TV replays and replays. She jumped slightly and shrugged, looking at Briggs as if to say, "What can you say?"

She said it all a little later. "That putt, it was just a miracle. The golf gods were on my side."

Steadier now, she went on to win, 3 and 1, at 17. She felt good winning, "especially this much match play," which with the qualifying round equaled a whole week's worth of golf. A week to remember.