SAN FRANCISCO, JUNE 15 -- They came at intervals, popping in like distant relatives -- inquisitive, investigative, curious and frequently wide-eyed.

Chris Roderick, the Olympic Club's head professional, found time to play genial host, dropping his regular duties to play a few holes with his guests.

Tom Kite, Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus, defending champion Raymond Floyd, John Cook, Lanny Wadkins, Pat McGowan -- they came, they saw and they left with deep concern they could conquer.

Olympic, regularly ranked among the top 10 golf courses in the United States, remains a mystery to more than half the players who will tee off in the 87th U.S. Open on Thursday.

Olympic hasn't played host to a tournament involving pros since the 1966 Open. That means Nicklaus, Floyd, Johnny Miller and Lee Trevino can rely a wee bit on their experiences in it that year.

Seven others -- Hal Sutton, Corey Pavin, Jodie Mudd, Paul Azinger, Bob Lohr, Gene Sauers and John Grund -- competed at Olympic in the 1981 U.S. Amateur, won dramatically by Nathaniel Crosby. And Cook and Barry Jaeckel can draw on their participation in the 1975 Pacific Coast Amateur.

Others showed up for pro-am outings last year, including Craig Stadler, Andy North, Fred Couples, Scott Simpson, Don Pooley, Mark Wiebe, Jim Thorpe, Gil Morgan, Dave Barr and Wayne Levi.

But a friendly outing is but a casual handshake to really knowing Olympic as it will be sculptured under the rigid standards of the U.S. Golf Association.

And there are the "locals," Tom Watson, Roger Maltbie, Johnny Miller, Bob Lunn, Bob Eastwood, Bill Glasson and Joey Rassett. They have lived in the area, and many have sampled Olympic's wares for years. "But for most players, I think Olympic will be a revelation," said Bob Murphy, tournament director.

Roderick seemed bemused by the reactions of first-time visitors.

"Most of the guys found things they weren't accustomed to," he said. "The trees are much bigger than what they see most places. They feel a little cramped in. They start to miss a few greens and realize they are small -- averaging 3,700 square feet. Then it dawns on them they are hitting a lot of 3-irons, 4-irons.

"That's the nature of the course. Most PGA Tour courses range to 7,000 yards. This is under 6,800. The pros think, 'Oh, short, lots of birdies.' But those birdies aren't there. You have to think about your shots, you have to grind. You can't just take a look and fire. There may be some 66s, 67s. Fine, I hope so. A lot will depend on the weather."

Anthony Zirpoli, a USGA official, doubts '66 Open veterans such as Nicklaus, Trevino, Miller and Floyd will have an edge.

"Whatever advantage they had from playing it before has eroded," he said. "If you haven't been back here in 21 years, that's too long. But the guys who arrived here last week will have a tremendous advantage."