The 88th U.S. Open golf championship, which begins here at The Country Club Thursday, looks like something else that happened around here a couple of centuries ago.

In those historic days, it was the colonies vs. England, the American Revolution.Now it's the American golfers vs. an invasion of foreign players, including one from England, Sandy Lyle, who is talking about winning golf's Grand Slam this year.

Look at the favorites in this field of 156 and it's amazing how many are from abroad.

There's Lyle, who, as this year's Masters winner, is the only player in the world who can win the Slam (the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA).

"I've thought a little about winning the Grand Slam," says Lyle. "It would be nice to do it. My preparation for this has been good."

But Lyle, though he is the 1988 tour's leading money winner with $608,479, just last week failed to make the cut at the Westchester (N.Y.) Classic.

"So what?" asked Bob Sommers, a U.S. Golf Association official. "A Masters winner who's going for a Grand Slam doesn't worry about the Westchester Classic."

"I disagree," said John Hopkins, a golf writer from London. "Lyle was very cross with himself after playing so poorly last week. He wanted to win that one."

Then there is the man who did win the four-way playoff at Westchester Sunday, Spain's Seve Ballesteros.

A lot of people think the colorful and charismatic Ballesteros is the greatest player in the world. He has won two British Opens and two Masters championships - but no U.S. Open titles. This gap in his resume has him talking about playing more frequently in the United States. Up to now, Ballesteros has played in the United States only a half dozen times a year.

Sandy Lyle won the Greater Greensboro Open the week before he won the year's first major championship, the Masters, which has handicappers thinking Ballesteros might make it two straight here.

Ballesteros says the win at Westchester has been a big boost to his confidence.

"You can lose your confidence," Ballesteros says, "and so you start thinking negative thoughts. So when you win one tournament you regain that confidence and think you can go on for a few weeks."

One more week would do just fine, as far as Ballesteros' fans are concerned.

Then there's another foreign player, Australia's White Shark, Greg Norman. The dashing Norman, the leading money winner in 1986, is always among the leaders. But, like Ballesteros, Norman has never won a U.S. Open.

Norman is sixth on the money list with $419,554. But The Shark is No. 1 in half of the tour's 10 statistical categories.

Scotland's Ian Woosnam and Germany's Bernhard Langer are other stars in the foreign contingent, which has won so many titles in the last decade. Neither Woosnam nor Langer is playing well enough to be rated a favorite this weekend.

The European side won the last two Ryder Cup competitions, defeating the U.S. team last fall for the first time ever on American soil.

What better place than The Country Club to begin to turn this around, to start to bring American players back to a position of dominance?

It was here on these very grounds in 1913 that a 20-year-old American, a former caddie at The Country Club, Francis Ouimet, won the U.S. Open and changed the game.

Ouimet beat British pros Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff. Up to then, British players were winning the titles, and the game belonged to the privileged.

Sure, this would be a good time and place for an American to win his own country's Open. But who is capable of it?

The day is past when giants Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus could win an Open. Palmer isn't even in this field, though he is here on business. Nicklaus, now 48 years old, hasn't won anything since the '86 Masters, and he hates this course.

Tom Watson has an outside chance, but the only tournament Watson has won in the last four years was the 1987 Nabisco Championships. He lost the Open by one stroke last year to Scott Simpson.

No, the U.S. players with a legitimate chance to beat the foreign stars are younger men - Curtis Strange, 33; Ben Crenshaw, 36; Lanny Wadkins, 38.

Curtis Strange, born in Norfolk, Va., 33 years ago, won a tour record $925,941 last year.

David Frost said of Strange: "I said two years ago Curtis was amongst the best, certainly in the top three. Right now I'd say it's a toss-up between Curtis and Greg Norman."

That may be true, but the feeling here is that Strange never wins anything you can remember on Tuesday.

After watching these guys for a few years, the personal feelings here are these:

Ballesteros is a threat to win anywhere, and fresh off a victory he'll be tougher than ever. But Seve has a tendency to become upset when he gets in trouble. That's why Lyle could win on a course with The Country Club's rough.

Lyle is either totally unflappable or he's dense. He seems not to care whether he's in the rough or on the fairway, though one has to believe he knows the difference.

Norman doesn't have the best record in the world when the pressure is on him. In '86, he led all four majors on the final morning, but he won only the British Open.

An American will win here, but it will be a relatively unknown player.

It'll be either Chip Beck or Mark Calcavecchia. Beck, the No. 2 money winner this year with $528,875, is ready to win a major championship. Calcavecchia, who turned 28 Sunday, is ready for big things.