US title missing golf link for Lopez; Buffalo embraces baseball

For golfer Sam Snead, whose long and illustrious career yielded 84 tournament victories, the US Open was always the big one that got away. Nancy Lopez, who is already an LPGA Hall of Famer, is faced with a similar vacancy in her well-stocked trophy case. She has come close in the US Women's Open (runner-up in 1977, tied for second in 1975), but never won the most coveted title in women's golf. She is bidding, however, to regain her stature as the tour's best player, a title she relinquished two years ago. She has been playing some of the best golf of her career, with a tour-leading three victories, and appears ready to make a strong run at the US title.

Her familiarity with this year's Open course, the Five Farms layout at the Baltimore Country Club, may also provide a slight edge when the women it up July 21-24. Nancy played there often last year, the result of a family move to Baltimore, where husband Ray Knight toiled for baseball's Orioles.

During the week of the Open, Lopez will have to renew her acquaintance with the Five Farms course, since the family (including two children) had to relocate to Detroit when Knight was sent to the Tigers in a preseason trade.

If she doesn't win this time, she might be tempted to go home and begin practicing for the the 1989 Open, since it will be held at the Indianwood Golf and Country Club outside Detroit. Buffalo's big baseball event

Strange as it sounds, there has never been an all-star baseball game for top minor league players, that is, until this year. Next Wednesday night in Buffalo the inaugural Triple A All-Star Game will be held at Pilot Field, the city's new stadium.

Although there are three Triple A leagues (Pacific Coast, International, and American Association), the players will be divided into two rosters based on the affiliation of their teams, either to American or National League clubs.

Minor league ball has enjoyed a strong following in Buffalo, even with the Toronto Blue Jays so close, and many fans in the area hope their support of the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons will soon be rewarded with a major league team. Pilot Field was built with that possibility in mind, and can be quite readily expanded from its current 19,500-seat capacity to 40,000.

Not long ago the facility was filled for an old-timers game that featured such stars as Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, and Hank Aaron. A big push is on to refill the park for the all-star game, which will receive live national TV coverage on ESPN and be the only professional baseball game played that night. A recorded phone message reminds prospective ticket buyers that ``this major event will showcase Buffalo in a positive light, but only if all the seats are filled.''

Community members already turn out in force to see the Bisons, a third-place team in the Eastern division of the American Association. Average attendance is 15,000, or about 9,000 better than the Louisville Redbirds, minor league baseball's next-best draw. People are turning out in unusually large numbers partly to see Pilot Field, which has the look of gracious old ballpark, and partly to underline the fact that Buffalo is ready, willing, and able to back a big-league club. NBA looks to the South

In debating the identity of the best college basketball conference, experts have often favored either the Big Ten or the Big East. This past spring, there was a groundswell of support for the Big Eight after member schools Kansas and Oklahoma met in the NCAA championship game. Not to be overlooked, however, is the Southeastern Conference, which recently earned the National Basketball Association's vote. During the three-round NBA draft, the Southeastern had 12 players selected to seven from the Big Eight, six from the Big Ten, and five from the Big East. The SEC's first-round picks were Auburn's Chris Morris (by New Jersey), Kentucky's Rex Chapman (by the expansion Charlotte Hornets), Georgia's Willie Anderson (by San Antonio), and Vanderbilt's Will Perdue (by Chicago). The other McEnroe

A McEnroe bit the dust in the first round of this week's US Pro Tennis Championships in Boston, but it wasn't John. Patrick McEnroe, John's younger brother, was the family representative easily defeated by Jimmy Arias, 6-2, 6-1, at Longwood.

Unlike his sibling, Patrick is right-handed, prefers a baseline game, and is a model citizen on the court. At last year's US Open, he was presented with the United States Tennis Association's Colonel James H. Bishop Award for exemplifying ``the highest standards of character, conduct, sportsmanship, appearance, and amateurism on and off the tennis court,'' to quote USTA president Gordon Jorgensen.

The young Mac just graduated from Stanford, where he was a good, but not great college player. His strength is as a doubles player, where he is teamed with Brad Gilbert this week. If life doesn't work out as a pro tennis player, Patrick may head for a court of another kind. He is awaiting the result of his law school entrance exams. Another spring fling

If you thought the concept of an outdoor spring football league (as opposed to Arena Football) had been buried, guess again. The idea has already been revived by a group calling itself America's Football Teams (AFT), which hopes to begin play next February.

To gauge the viability of this latest venture, including possible fan ownership of nine teams, a study was commissioned by Dave Dixon, the same man whose vision inspired the now-defunct United States Football League. The study showed that there are still enough die-hard fans ready to watch football at any time of year to succeed in the spring. To bait the hook, the league is considering selling stock to ticket holders. Another lure is an emphasis on faster play, so that games would finish under three hours.

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