Monday, Oct 15, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

David Briggs

MIRRORS OF SPORT

Wait a minute, where is everybody at the Marathon Classic?

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    Lexi Thompson speaks during a press conference ahead of the LPGA Marathon Classic on Tuesday. Thompson is the top-ranked golfer in the field at No. 5 in the world.

    BLADE/KURT STEISS

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    2008 Marathon Classic champion Paula Creamer is back at the event after missing last year's tournament.

    BLADE PHOTO

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For a moment, after stealing a final look at the Marathon Classic field, I wasn’t sure where I was Tuesday.

Highland Meadows? Or Thistle Weed Muni for the Bingo Bango Bongo Invitational?

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I’m not saying the tournament is guilty of false advertising — “The Best of the Best,” the promos told us — I’m just saying I saw someone with the Bureau of Consumer Protection asking questions.

A traditionally talent-drenched field has run curiously dry this year.

Save for fifth-ranked Lexi Thompson and seventh-ranked In-Kyung Kim, the rest of the top 15-rated players in the world sent their regrets. So did Michelle Wie and five of the top six Americans, and, for good measure, the winners of seven of the last eight major championships.

It’s not you, it’s me, they all politely tell us. Still, you wonder: What in the name of Corporal Klinger is going on here?

The short answer: It’s them.

Look, we rib because we love.

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The Marathon is our community’s jewel professional sporting event and this year will be no different.

I don’t want to say it doesn’t matter most of the top-rated players on the planet are not here, because that is not true. We’d love it if Inbee Park, Sung Hyun Park, Ariya Jutanugarn, and So Yeon Ryu — the foursome atop the rankings — joined the party too. The beauty of the LPGA Tour is its great diversity, and you want the strongest field possible.

For as much as we lavish the tournament with well-earned praise, it’s fair to note when it fails to meet its standard. And relative to past years — the event averaged eight of the top 15 players the past five years — the top end of this field falls well short. 

But ...

Enough about who isn’t here. Look who is.

In journalism, you follow the money. In golf, you follow the galleries. From a marketing perspective, the three most important players are: Thompson, the most popular player on tour; Paula Creamer, the last American to win the tourney (2008) and an enduring fan favorite who — for what it is worth — has more Twitter followers (503,000) than Thompson and the other top-five players combined; and Stacy Lewis, the Toledo-born star whose Lew Crew brings it strong every year.

All three love the tournament. All three are here this week.

As is Kim, the reigning champion with a smile as big as her swing. And the human birdie — Sei Young Kim — who shattered the LPGA scoring record with a 31-under victory last week. And the two wonderfully gifted St. Ursula Academy grads — Lizzie Win and Pinya Pipatjarasgit — who received 11th-hour sponsor’s exemptions.

Let’s just say the tournament will live.

I asked tourney director Judd Silverman if he’d prefer a field of those with the biggest names or the biggest games.

He smiled. Silverman wants both, of course, which is the right answer.

PHOTO GALLERY: Pre-LPGA Marathon Classic action

“But having said that, we're very happy with our field,” he said. “We have a lot of great players, and I am 100 percent certain they will put on a great show this week.”

Besides, my suspicion is the tourney’s dip in the shallow end is a one-year outlier.

Sometimes, when your event is in the dead of an exhausting summer schedule, that’s just how the field crumbles.

As much as we love the mid-July date, the players do not, the tournament sardined as it is between two majors — the PGA Championship and British Open — and on the back end of a stretch of nine consecutive weekends of tournaments. “A very hard spot,” Lewis said.

Why not move it to an easy spot? Sure, if the Marathon’s lone objective was attracting the best field possible, it could relocate to a less crowded month — May, for instance.

But, really, would that solve anything at all? At its heart, the tournament is a pillar of summer here, a celebration of the best women’s golfers and community. It is about 1,000-plus volunteers. It is about kids filling the grounds. It is about selling out five pro-ams, including the headliner Wednesday, which runs $16,000 per foursome. It is about donating $500,000 every year to northwest Ohio children’s charities.

Most years, its reputation carries the day and, yes, the best of the best show up in droves. Thompson called the Marathon “one of the best tournaments on tour.”

Still, even this week, that holds true. I wanted to get worked up over the diminished field, only to realize it was energy ill spent. 

“We have so much to be thankful for with this tournament,” Silverman said.

Bongo Invitational or not, so do we.

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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