Deane Beman's biological clock says 47. But his alarm clock says 5 a.m.

That's when the commissioner of golf arises to chase his improbable but tantalizing dream: He wants to play the U.S. Open again.

Beman hears the jokes. Ueberroth's working on his knuckleball. Rozelle's out in the back yard place-kicking.

Middle-aged men dream of comebacks. That's why those fantasy baseball camps make a mint. It comes with the paunch.

So, Beman's shy. He knows how silly it sounds. Daily regimen: sleep, eight hours; run pro golf, eight hours; practice golf, eight hours. When in doubt, don't sleep.

But he's dead serious.

Serious enough to get up and work on the old body from 5 to 9 a.m., with Nautilus training included. Serious enough to have a pair of two-hour stints of ball-beating every possible day -- once at lunch, then again just before sundown. Serious enough that he's wrapped himself in a cocoon of provisos so he can dump the whole project like a hot coal if he must.

Beman's goal is simple.

He wants to play three midsummer events this season -- the U.S., Irish and British opens. And he doesn't just want to qualify or make the cut or break par. He wants to be on the leader board.

It's amazing how close Beman will come to admitting that he wants to win. "I won't play unless I really believe that I can contend," he said yesterday.

In any other major sport, such a notion would be prima facie evidence of a major psychosis. Beman hasn't played competitively since he became the boss of the pro tour in 1974.

But golf, in a wonderful way, is different. Hope never dies. At 60, Sam Snead still thought of Masters jackets.

For two years, the scuttlebutt of the PGA Tour staff has been that Beman was playing so well that it was driving him bananas. "The pros say the Players Club (in Ponte Vedra, Fla.) might be the toughest layout in the world," said Dale Antram, an official of the Senior Tour. "Last year Deane shot 66 from the back tees with a double-bogey at the 17th. Another time he started with six birdies in a row, then lipped out a bird at (No.) 7.

"Beman's handicap at the Players Club is plus two. That means he has to add strokes to his score, not subtract them, before we'll even play him. His typical round is 68 to 71." (The average score at the TPC last year was 73.5.)

To listen to Beman talk is to sense how imperceptible the line is between the highest forms of dogged human ambition and the purest self-delusion.

"There's no question I'm capable of playing better now than when I was on tour," said Beman. "I'm bigger and stronger. I'm hitting my long irons 10 yards further and without straining . . . .

"I've never stopped thinking about golf. I've hit thousands and thousands of practice shots in my mind. Golf is the one game where visualizing a shot, imagining the feel and the mechanics of it, is as much a part of the game as actually hitting balls . . . . That's the way I'd go to sleep lots of nights -- playing a whole perfect round in my head. Let me tell you, I didn't make many bogeys.

" . . . I changed my game before I quit. I never got the potential out of the new swing I had developed. I felt like I had finally learned how to play golf."

To Beman, the proof of his new theories was that "for my first 10 years as commissioner, I never hit a practice ball and didn't play 20 times a year. But after not unzipping my bag for two or three months, I'd still go out and shoot 68."

No one knows better than Beman that golf is (pick one): The Devil's Child, The Humbling Game, The Sport of Paradox. We all play our best after layoffs and without practice -- except, of course, if it matters. We've temporarily forgotten everything that can go wrong.

"I was playing better before I started practicing," Beman mused. "The old bones hurt a little bit."

What hurts Beman most is the fear that his fling will be misunderstood.

Beman insisted (repeatedly) that: He won't play in any PGA Tour event. "Inappropriate." He will drop his comeback if it detracts from being commissioner. "I'll use my good judgment not to let it interfere with my primary job." He missed five days of practice recently as he traveled to 11 cities in nine days. He will not, no matter how well he might play, join the PGA Senior Tour when he turns 50. "It's going to be a while before I finish my job. There's a great deal more to accomplish. The Senior Tour is not compatible with being commissioner. "I made that decision (between playing and administering) in '73. I said to myself, 'So maybe you win an important event, like the Open. But look at what Nicklaus, Palmer and Player have done.' I couldn't be the greatest player who ever lived, and that had always been my goal. I could do a great deal more as commissioner."

Most agree that he has. The Tour's corporate assets have grown forty-fold under the business-oriented Beman. In fact, the Senior Tour (his brainchild) now has annual purses approximately the same as the regular Tour had when he arrived. Beman also has ramrodded the creation of a dozen "stadium" courses, including one being built at Avenel Farm in Potomac.

Beman's success as an administrator blurs memories of his playing days. One of the best amateurs ever, he won the 1959 British Amateur and the '60 and '63 U.S. Amateur titles. After playing on many Walker, World Amateur and U.S. Americas cup teams, Beman turned pro at 29, leaving an insurance brokerage firm in Bethesda. In six seasons, he won four Tour events and was the straightest driver and best fairway wood player of his era. Lack of strength was his flaw.

The least of Beman's comeback worries is embarrassment. "You put your reputation and your ego and your heart on the line every time you go out and post a score," he said. "To play in pro-ams in public without practice, like I have, was more pressure than this will be. I expected me to do well then, even though I shouldn't have."

When it comes to making a buck by tying a new course to a condo deal, or squeezing every dime out of marketing a slick logo, Beman can be all too ready for the realistic compromise. But about striking a golf ball, he's all purist.

"I'm doing this because I just love to play the game. The trial and error, the elation of experimenting and succeeding at something so hard. I love to be able to control the golf ball. No way in the world will I fool myself about whether or not I should try to qualify for the U.S. Open. People tell me now, 'You're playin' great.'

"I know I'm not even close."

Around April 22 -- Beman's 48th birthday -- he'll have to decide whether to enter local Open qualifying.

Will Beman's game be sharp enough for him to doff his commissioner's hat, unzip his old bag and risk tossing a cream pie in his own face?

"Don't know. But I'm gonna try," said Beman. "Right now, I'm enjoying every miserable minute of it."