SAN FRANCISCO -- They troop through the players lounge deep inside the clubhouse at Olympic Club. The pro from Happy Trails Resorts, who will be first off the tee in the U.S. Open today; the fellow from La Verne, Calif., who had as much trouble getting his entry in on time as he did qualifying. And so many more.

The Open is for dreamers, because anyone with a 2-handicap and $75 can take a crack at it. Once in a while, every generation or so, somebody obscure climbs out of an Open and shoots himself toward immortality.

Twenty-two Opens ago, here at Olympic, golf didn't realize it was saying so long to Arnold Palmer as a winner of major tournaments; neither did golf know that it shortly would be celebrating the pro from the Horizon Golf Club in El Paso, Lee Trevino.

"Don't remember a shot I hit that week," Trevino was saying. "I do remember I was over by the clubhouse, and Arnold drove up. The people almost ran over me to get his autograph. They thought I was an elevator operator or something."

Trevino took 303 blows that week at Olympic, and finished tied for 54th in The Open Arnie Blew. He won a grand total of $600 in all of 1966, in fact, but rose to prominence fairly quickly, like a 2-iron from a flyer lie.

"Best deal I ever had {was before that Open}," he said. "A sponsor paid my airline ticket here, and for the room at a hotel near the airport. It was a 60-40 split, in my favor. Trouble is, the guy didn't have any money."

Trevino played Olympic whenever possible before that 1966 tournament, and beat balls wherever possible into the night. Unnoticed, he would slip through the clubhouse, by Palmer and the eventual winner, Billy Casper.

A couple of decades and a couple of million bucks later, the golfing parade passes Trevino at Olympic. And salutes him, over there in a stuffy sofa in a public forum he plays as well as any course.

Jack Nicklaus pretends to intrude; Trevino tells him to go find his own news conference.

"Just thought I might learn something," Nicklaus says.

Nearly 48, Trevino figures he will pontificate better than he will play this week. Unlike himself, Olympic is almost unchanged from when he left it in '66.

"The fairways are what sets this course apart," he said. "They slant, from left to right some holes and from right to left on others. If it's wet this week, they'll hold. I've always said that the wetter a fairway is the wider it gets.

"But if the fairways dry out, watch out. Then you'll have to play the ball into 'em to make sure the ball stays on. Hook it into a fairway that slants to the right; fade it into one that goes to the left.

"Dry would be good for me, because it makes the course shorter. I've got to labor to get to some of the holes. It's better for me, if it gets hard, even though the Opens I won {in 1968 and 1971} were when it was wet. I'm a great mudder."

Even that relatively quick Open bonanza, the '68 victory at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., failed to lift Trevino to instant fame.

"I was close to the lead every day," he said, "and after each round I would sit in a golf cart and drink beer. People would walk right by. They thought I was the guy who ran the cart barn."

Trevino has been struck by lightning, and by the fact that calm days on a course can be such bizarre experiences.

There was the pro who finished second in a tournament years ago, even though his game was so weak he grunted on every shot; there was the time, in the British Open, that the drive of his playing partner struck the middle of the fairway and soon zipped sideways, out of bounds.

Trevino's surprise this day was the sight of Dale Douglass walking by toward the practice area, putter in hand. What in the world, Trevino yelled, was Douglass doing here, when there was easy money to be made in a rich event for seniors this weekend.

Trevino plans to make Douglass and every other senior play for second money as soon as he becomes eligible. Looking at Douglass, Trevino said: "The man has an entire suit missing from his deck."

In case you wondered who is going to win this Open, Trevino has the answer: fellow sitting on the floor a few feet away and changing into his spikes.

Payne Stewart.

"I think he's gonna do it," Trevino said. "He's accepted the fact that he's one of the top players in the world -- and that's important. He's also good enough to live up to the challenge.

"He used to be a bad bunker player; he used to not always have control over his temper. He's over that, and he can work a wedge with anybody. He's also learned from having had the lead, and lost it {late in the final round of last year's Open}."

Trevino has noticed that golf balls seem incapable of going any way but straight lately, which comes as a sun-at- midnight surprise to us public-course hackers.

He insists that aerodynamics have helped the young pro blasters avoid trouble, and also avoid having to learn the variety of shots that keep them from being elevated to craftsmen.

New golf balls, he says, will be the ruination of golf.

Really?

"Seems to me," said Frank Hannigan, senior executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, "that we heard the same kind of talk in the early '60s, about Nicklaus."

Perhaps this is grumpy-talk from a player eager to strut into the lush senior pasture. Still, Trevino will give Olympic another Open whack, although not in the way he did 21 years ago.

The man who could not get enough golf when the Open last came to Olympic practices sporadically now. The pro from Happy Trails and others can spend sunrise to sunset at work. At midmorning, a gentleman's hour, Trevino grabbed his clubs and told an attendant: "See you soon."