Women's golf may have never produced a better Cinderella story than Anne-Marie Palli's. Outclassed when she last played the US circuit, the 27 -year-old French pro has made a triumphant return. Earlier this week she became the first European in the 34-year history of the Ladies Professional Golf Association to win an LPGA event, the $150,000 Samaritan Turquoise Classic.
She won in convincing fashion, too, shooting rounds of 68, 69, and 68 for a 14-under-par, seven-stroke victory in the rain-shortened Phoenix tournament. And this was against a field that included such prominent players as Donna Caponi, Jan Stephenson, and Pat Bradley.
There had been speculation that Palli (pronounced Paul-LEE) would fade down the stretch. She had fallen out of contention in two other LPGA appearances this year. Even so she felt a reservoir of experience had prepared her for a breakthrough. ''I've won on the European professional tour and I've won on the mini-tour (a minor league),'' she remarked. ''The pressure is the same no matter what the tournament is.''
Her previous achievements include nine victories on the 1982 mini-tour, six French championships, and two European titles.
Anne-Marie's first LPGA stint, however, was a disaster. In 1981 she failed to make the ''cut'' in 17 of 22 tournaments and lost her playing privileges. She managed to rejoin the tour this January after Phoenix pro Ed Oldfield overhauled her game. Bela's surprise gymnast
At the same time Anne-Marie Palli was making a name for herself in golf, Mary Lou Retton was springing from nowhere to grab the international gymnastics spotlight in New York's Madison Square Garden. Though only an alternate in the American Cup meet, she stepped in for an injured competitor and stole off with the women's all-around title.
Defending champion Julianne McNamara, perhaps America's top medal hope in the 1984 Olympics, was the pre-meet favorite. But despite improving on her winning scores of the last two years, she finished second to the virtually unknown 15 -year-old. A key to Retton's narrow 39.30-to-39.00 victory was the meet record 9.95 she received in the vault.
Though a native of West Virginia, Mary Lou now lives in Houston, where she's been under the tutelage of Bela Karolyi the last two months. Karolyi coached Nadia Comaneci and the Romanian women's team up until two years ago. Disgruntled by efforts to use the team's success for propaganda purposes, Bela defected to the US. Virginia salutes Sampson
Ralph Sampson has not grown much since arriving at the University of Virginia four years ago. He's somewhat heavier, but his height (7 ft. 4 in.) remains the same. Despite this, Ralph has grown dramatically in several more important ways - intellectually, emotionally, and socially. He has won the respect of the college community, too, and not simply because of his contributions to the Cavalier basketball program. When the pros came knocking, he was strong enough to make a decision (to stay in school) that some questioned. And in both victory and defeat he has exhibited a commendable degree of class.
Last Sunday Sampson played his last game on the Virginia campus, an occasion that saw the ushers at Ralph's House (University Hall) dressed in tuxedos. His jersey number was retired, and a $100,000 Thomas Jefferson scholarship presented to the school in his name. Virginia had lost only two times at home during the Sampson era, but appeared in danger of losing to Maryland after Ralph missed some key free throws in the last minute. But with six seconds left he hit a foul-line jumper for the winning points. Later, responding to chanted requests for a speech, Sampson addressed the sellout crowd: ''It's been a good four years. It's gone quickly. I wish I could stay another year, but I've got to move on.'' When he does so, it will be with a degree, too. Congratulations, Ralph. Pitchers near milestone
In baseball, any pitcher who notches 300 career victories can start writing his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. No 300-game winner has ever been denied entry. On the other hand, pitchers who reach this level don't grow on trees. Only one (Gaylord Perry, last year) has joined the 300-win fraternity since Early Wynn in 1963.
A number of others, however, are currently knocking on the door. Those with a shot at 300 career wins are Steve Carlton (285); Jim Kaat (283); Ferguson Jenkins (278); Tom Seaver (264); Jim Palmer (263); Don Sutton (258), And Phil Niekro (257).
Philadelphia's Carlton is still going strong and should reach 300 easily, maybe even this season. His 23-11 record made him baseball's only 20-game winner last year, when he received the National League's Cy Young Award a record fourth time.
Carlton, Seaver, and Palmer probably have the credentials to make the hall regardless, while the others may need 300 victories to assure their Cooperstown niches.