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Marathon Classic a success

07/22/2014, 12:00am EDT
By STEVE JUNGA BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Great weather, exciting final round helps Classic

Marathon a success

Plenty of fans followed Lydia Ko on Sunday as the 17-year-old won the Marathon Classic. Organizers don’t release attendance figures but said the crowds were larger than last year. BLADE/LORI KING

Although it will be weeks before numbers can be verified to support his conclusion, the 2014 LPGA Marathon Classic presented by Owens Corning & O-I was a resounding success according to Judd Silverman, the tournament’s executive director.

Mild weather, greater attendance, increased prize money, solid sponsorship, and a compelling final day of competition at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania were all factors that seem to back Silverman’s assessment.

“I don’t think it could have gone any better,” said Silverman of the 29th LPGA tournament staged in Sylvania. “Our volunteers did a wonderful job of executing the event, and the weather was perfect.”

The only minor glitch during the week was an hour delay to the start of Sunday’s final round because of morning fog.

Capping the week was a picture of parity over the final round. When the third-round leaders teed off in the last pairing around 2 p.m. Sunday, there were 20 players in the field who were within legitimate striking range of winning the tournament, all positioned between 11-under-par and 7-under.

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When play concluded, the Marathon Classic had a winner who made history at the Sylvania course.

Seventeen-year-old New Zealander Lydia Ko — extremely gifted with her clubs and seemingly wise beyond her years with her combination of poise, maturity, and wit — became the youngest winner of this longstanding LPGA event, and also the youngest LPGA player to eclipse $1 million in career earnings.

Ko, who finished at 15-under for the tournament, edged 2012 Farr Classic champion So Yeon Ryu by one stroke.

Ko took the lead by sinking a four-foot birdie putt on 18th green Sunday, and clinched her second tour victory of the season (fourth overall) when Ryo failed to convert her own birdie try from eight feet on No. 18 just moments later.

With a second year sponsoring this LPGA event under its belt, Marathon seems to have hit the ground running in succeeding the former Jamie Farr Classic, which for all but a few years was also held at Highland Meadows.

And, for at least another year, the Findlay-based Marathon Petroleum Company will back the event along with its other main corporate sponsors.

“We’re committed through 2015 with Marathon, Owens Corning, and O-I,” Silverman said. “The [prize money] purse will go up to $1.5 million [from $1.4 million], and we will be back at Highland Meadows next July 13-19.”

WEATHER: After a 2013 inaugural Marathon Classic saw temperatures range around 95 degrees throughout the four rounds, this year’s tourney took place with temperatures ranging from the low 70s to the low 80s throughout the week.

“Over the 29 years, I’m sure we’ve had similar type weeks,” Silverman said, “but this year was just perfect.”

ATTENDANCE: Unlike sporting events held at stadiums or arenas, attendance is more difficult to gauge at golf courses which span vast acreage. Silverman and Marathon official Craig Weigand are convinced that the spectator count on the grounds was undeniably up over the 2013 event.

“Attendance was up significantly all four days,” Silverman said. “It’s too tough to count, but we go by our concession sales, and our sales at the gate. We were significantly up on both of those.”

In the moments leading up to Ko’s winning putt, while he was preparing for the post-tournament ceremonies on the 18th green, Weigand said that “Thursday was way up, Friday was really good, Saturday was OK, and [Sunday] was also good.”

Silverman said that the numbers should prove out when sales are confirmed in the next 2-3 weeks, when tournament staff calculates its total proceeds after paying its bills, and determines how much charity money was raised.

CHARITY: Silverman was pleased to make the claim that the 2014 event should far exceed the charitable contributions of last year.

“Last year we gave $378,000 to charity, and our goal this year was half a million,” Silverman said. “I feel confident that we’re going to be able to do that. We will know in a few weeks.”

MARATHON REACTION: Weigand, Marathon’s manager of advertising and credit card marketing, said that this year’s tournament, “not only matched our expectations but exceeded them.”

Although Marathon’s official commitment does not currently extend beyond 2015, Silverman was firm in his response when asked if there was a chance that the event may be moved to a Findlay-area course because of the sponsor’s ties to that area.

“None whatsoever,” he said.

CLASSY CHAMPION: First Ko dazzled the crowd and media at the Marathon Classic with her consistently strong play during the week while posting a scoring line of 67-67-70-65—269 on the par-71 course.

Then she impressed the media members in a post-tournament press conference with her evolved sense of humor and properly aligned perspective, claiming she wasn’t overly consumed with the money she has earned for a girl who has yet to begin her final year of high school, and that she chooses instead to keep her focus on the skills that allow her to earn it.

“I’m thinking about making birdies and hitting good shots, and making putts rather than, ‘Okay, this putt is going to give me an extra thousand,’ ” Ko said after being told the $210,000 first-place check made her the LPGA’s youngest player to reach the $1 million mark.

“She’s just an amazing young lady,” Silverman said of Ko. “Not only is she a champion, and proven it time and again the last couple years against greatest competition in the world, but she is also remarkable off the golf course.

“She is as kind and considerate as you would hope your own daughter would turn out to be.”

COMPETITION: When asked what single element, to him, defined the 2014 tournament, Silverman didn’t need to ponder long.

“The finish was really exciting,” he said. “To have that many players right in the mix with only nine holes to go, where anybody could have won, that’s all you can hope for. There were 10-15 players that had a chance at that point. What a great finish.”

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.

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