The golf that begins at 7:30 a.m. Thursday on the Ailsa Course here is the British Open only to non-Britons. To the British, it's the Open. No qualifiers. And they have a point.

The British Open preceded every other U.S. and Doral Eastern Open on the globe by decades, although the first one, in 1860, actually was semi-closed. Only pros were eligible, and Willie Park's winning score of 174 either was for 36 holes or 18 on a day such as this one.

A "fresh wind" arrived today, something in the 25- to 30-mph range. It was enough to mat Jack Nicklaus' hair and all but blow Deane Beman's tee ball back past his ear now and then.

The majors so far this year have been romantic: Nicklaus winning the Masters at age 46, Raymond Floyd and Bob Murphy winning the U.S. and Canadian opens at 43.

And now Beman, 48 and commissioner of the PGA Tour, has a chance to steal the British Open title, or at least make a good showing. Winner of the British Amateur in 1959, Beman has returned to serious competition for the first time in 12 years and qualified for this Open a few days ago.

"I don't think I'm lucky to be here," Beman said after a practice round today with Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino. "I earned my way in. And my goals are the same as everyone else in the field.

"I've never in my life thought in terms of merely making the cut in anything."

Beman's is a dream that seems too wild for anyone to consider seriously, especially if the wind continues. Go with the big belters: Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman. Or Watson, Floyd, Nicklaus and some others. The defending champion, Sandy Lyle, is listed at shorter odds than some more prominent players.

Even the 6-foot-1 Lyle, author of a book on power golf, found the wind today close to impossible to deal with. To reach the 431-yard 18th hole, he hit driver, driver.

"Yesterday," he said, "I hit 3-wood, 6-iron. The finishing holes were monstrous today. I even used a driver on the 209-yard 15th hole. Lots of 1-iron second shots out there. The wind'll sort out the men from the boys." The very good young American, Bob Tway, second-leading money winner on the U.S. tour with $461,005, said he lost four balls today.

"Or maybe it was five," he amended.

Ballesteros is the clear favorite, for the very good reason that he has played better than nearly anyone for the last month or so.

Americans might not know that, because his victories have been in the British Masters, the Irish Open, the Monte Carlo Open and the French Open. For those who insist the competition wasn't much, consider this: Ballesteros is 86 under par for the 32 rounds he has played in Europe this season.

"The key has been consistency," he said. "Nothing fantastic. Just consistent. And good putting, around my best ever."

No, Ballesteros and the man who banned him from the U.S. tour, Beman, are not paired for the first two rounds. They will not even get within club-throwing distance of each other, because Beman should be finished long before Ballesteros starts.

Ballesteros wasn't worried about the wind. Nor was Norman.

"Then maybe only 12 to 15 guys can win," Norman figured. "The tougher the better. I hope the wind blows two or three days."

To counter the exceptionally high rough, Trevino will carry an extra wedge and a 7-wood he says has allowed him to thrash out of hay easy as you please.

A 7 what?

Nicklaus said he'd never seen a 7-wood until today.

"Most amazing club I've ever hit," Trevino said.

Today, it was Trevino and Nicklaus versus Watson and Beman, with the match ending in a draw after Trevino and Nicklaus won a press.

Beman said his partner, Watson, was terrific, adding: "I think he'd be one to tell you he's quite pleased with his game."

Trevino and others are high on Tway's chances, since Tway has done so well on the PGA Tour and was in contention until the final few holes of the U.S. Open.

"The best player to come along in a long while," Trevino said. "No question. He has no weakness. He manages courses well. Fact is, he reminds me of Seve many years ago."

A native of blustery Oklahoma, Tway was rather anxious for the wind to kick up here, although not with quite today's intensity.

This being his first British Open, does he figure some sort of apprenticeship is necessary? Does he believe winning is possible on his first attempt?

"I don't see why not," he said.

One of the interesting aspects of links golf is its uncertainty, the luck of starting in gale winds when everybody much later plays in calm.

The forecast for Thursday would seem to favor the afternoon players, among them Ballesteros, Nicklaus, Andy Bean, Tom Kite, Watson and Trevino. Beman, Floyd and Norman tee off early.

With so much fuss over the tightness of the fairways and the thickness of the rough, the secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews gets to defend the setup.

Nature is the culprit, for the most part, Michael Bonallack said. The automatic water sprinklers have almost never been turned on.

Besides, he added, complaints about severity "are not all that bad. We do consider this the premier championship in the world."