The gut reaction is to wonder why Jamie Farr’s name has come off our local LPGA golf tournament, regardless of sponsorship changes and regardless of the commitment the still-busy, 78-year-old actor may or may not be able to make to the event.
After all, it has been the Jamie Farr Classic since Day One, since founder/tournament director Judd Silverman and others struggled to get this thing off the ground in the early 1980s, since it needed an identity.
The Toledo native, one of our local treasures, gave it just that.
His almost annual attendance and participation in every pro-am and celebrity event and dinner, his presence at the 18th green with a heartfelt “thank you for being here” as every golfer came off the course on Sundays, helped the Farr Classic grow into one of the more popular stops on the LPGA Tour and into one of the sport’s longest-running successes.
He also provided pro golf and its local fans — via a handshake, a smile, a kind word or an autograph — its last fling with old Hollywood. You know, back when Liz Taylor, not Lindsay Lohan, was Liz Taylor.
Many of Jamie’s friends and acquaintances, from Bing Crosby to Bob Hope to Sammy Davis, Jr., from Jackie Gleason to Dinah Shore to fellow Toledoan Danny Thomas, used to have their names attached to golf tournaments. They’re all gone now.
So too is Jamie Farr, although thankfully it’s a different kind of gone.
People who think it is a shame that Farr’s name is being taken off the tournament — and I would be among them — might point a finger at the new title sponsor since the announcements were made concurrently.
I’m told it was more a confluence of coincidence. Farr was questioning his ability to commit time and energy to the tournament in future years at the same time that Marathon Petroleum, a northwest Ohio-based corporation, was considering coming on board.
Before last summer’s tournament, Kroger, once a title sponsor and more recently one of the presenting sponsors, notified the Farr’s board that it was going to reduce its financial commitment to the event, according to Silverman. This was a jolt to the Farr, just back on its feet after a year off and a rough go with the economy.
Marathon not only rode to the rescue but came in as top dog, title sponsor, with a big-dollar outlook that would up the purse over time and put all four rounds of the tournament on worldwide TV, via an agreement with the Golf Channel.
I’m not suggesting that Marathon had any problem with Jamie Farr’s name on the tourney, but if it had, I would find it understandable.
Consider this. Over the past nearly three decades, the tournament has been sponsored at various times and in various ways by Owens Corning, Kroger, O-I, and probably some others I’m forgetting. And that’s the point. They are to some degree forgotten and to a large degree underappreciated.
Regardless of sponsorship, the tournament has always been the Farr Classic and the story headline has always been “Farr Out” or “Farr Ahead” or “Farr and Away.”
If I’m Marathon and I’m going to plop a million dollars a year — just a guess at the amount, but I’d bet that’s pretty close — into sponsorship of an athletic event, I’d prefer people remember from where the money is coming. I’d want the Sunday morning headline before the final round to be something like “A Marathon Finish” or “Leaders All Gassed Up.”
Sure, part of sponsoring an athletic event is giving back to the community. But part is product recognition and creating the goodwill that will influence consumers.
The Jamie Farr Marathon Classic would not produce that desired effect because, frankly, it would still be the Farr Classic in headlines, on TV reports, and on the tip of most fans’ tongues.
So I understand.
There may have been another way to handle it, a transitional type thing. Call it the Marathon Classic, Saluting Jamie Farr. It would have effectively renamed the tournament and refocused the attention while handling the Farr angle with the appropriate affection.
But Farr, whose lawyer said the actor was in rehearsals and not immediately available for comment, indicated in a statement released through Toledo Classic Inc., that he has anything but ill will over the changes.
“I have wonderful news to share that will take the tournament to new heights,” is how his statement began.
I suspect he is right and for that we should salute Marathon.
But we will miss the name and the face that graced the Jamie Farr Classic for so long.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.