Stacy Lewis’ Aunt Gigi, a Toledoan, is getting sick of seeing the LPGA star’s picture on the TV screen and hearing her voice on the radio. “That’s what she told me,” Lewis said. “She was joking. I think.”
Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg has a near-perfect record in handicapping the Marathon Classic LPGA field. He never gets it right. Well, maybe once with Se Ri Pak back when she was winning everything in sight. But that’s about it in 27 tries. So he’s banking on Toledo-born Stacy Lewis to start a new one-in-a-row streak. Here’s Hack’s baker’s dozen of dandies for 2013:
1. Stacy Lewis, 3-1. America’s best and brightest, winning would be sponsor’s delight.
2. Inbee Park, 5-1. World’s best and brightest, she is dealing with a ton of expectations.
3. Lydia Ko, 8-1. Best and brightest of amateur ranks, plus it would be a ton of fun.
4. Gerina Pillar, 10-1. Toledo stop often produces a surprise, so here’s a surprise pick.
5. Angela Stanford, 12-1. Runner-up here a year ago and arrives at the top of her game.
6. Paula Creamer, 15-1. Crowd favorite and ex-champ once torched the Meadows for a 60.
7. Yani Tseng, 18-1. May not be focus of attention these days, but she is an eagle machine.
8. Brooke Pancake, 25-1. She’s a rising LPGA star and might just be ready to contend.
We’re sure she was, but Stacy has indeed been front and center in a bunch of promotions leading into today’s opening round of the inaugural Marathon Classic.
Lewis has been featured on local and national TV commercials, in newspaper and magazine ads, and on the cover of event programs and pairings sheets.
She is Ms. Marathon.
The Findlay-based corporation is one of her major sponsors, and she is one of its major spokes-athletes, if that is indeed a word. Heck, we just made it one.
MARATHON CLASSIC: Fan guide, articles, photos, video and tweets from the tournament
Interestingly, not until a press conference Wednesday did we realize Lewis had played such an integral role in the marriage between tournament and sponsor.
First off, Lewis indicated that her deal with Marathon Petroleum came about after an introduction made by Judd Silverman, the founder and director of the then-Jamie Farr Toledo Classic. During last year’s tournament Silverman had another conversation with Lewis. “He kind of put a bug in my ear. ‘We need to get a long-term tournament sponsor here,’ ” Lewis recalled.
Not long after, Lewis took part in an outing with Marathon and its customers. It was one of the first times she had met Gary Heminger, the company’s CEO.
“Gary said, ‘Why should I sponsor an LPGA tournament?’ ” Lewis said. “He sort of caught me off guard. But that’s what we’re here to do as players, to sell ourselves and sell our tour.”
She must have given a heck of an answer.
“It’s been cool to go through the process with them and to see how excited they are for this event,” Stacy said. “I played with Gary again in the pro-am today, and he said, ‘I want to know how we can make this better. I want to know what we need to do better for next year.’ So he’s got ideas. I think this is just the beginning.”
In a lot of ways, the Farr Classic was the beginning for Lewis, who is a Toledo native and who has considerable family still living in the area.
It was the first LPGA tournament she ever saw as a spectator, and it was the first LPGA event she ever competed in as a player. Lewis, who was raised in Texas, was a sponsor exemption three times — twice as an amateur at the University of Arkansas and once as a pro — before qualifying to join the LPGA.
“I love being back here,” she said. “This course, this place is very special to me.”
She returns this time as the No. 2-ranked player in the world after a brief flirtation earlier this season with No. 1.
“It was one of those things you work so hard for and it was kind of like, all right, now what do I do?” Lewis said of topping the rankings. “Every year I’ve come back to this tournament, I’ve come back at a higher level. I played as an amateur a couple times, and that really kind of set the foundation of learning how to get better. This is the highest I’ve ever been ranked coming into this tournament, so there is an extra spotlight.”
There is also an extra spotlight on Ms. Marathon, with that big red “M” strategically placed on her polo shirt right above her heart.
Paula Creamer can tell her what it’s all about. She was the champion in 2008 when the event here was called the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic, a company with which Creamer is still affiliated from a sponsorship standpoint.
Then it was the LPGA’s Pink Panther winning the Owens Corning Pink Panther’s tournament.
“[With] sponsors, in general, you want to represent yourself well,” Creamer said. “You’re representing their company. When they have an event, they’ve obviously put a little bit extra into the LPGA.
“You know, in Stacy, I know what it feels like to come to an event when, yes, you are looked upon a bit more by your sponsors because you’re representing them. But I think that’s a great thing that we can [be] ambassadors for these big companies that want to support an LPGA event.
“I don’t think it’s a nervous type of feeling. It’s more pressure of the expectations being almost too high in a sense because you want to do well for them.”
But maybe not too well right out of the gate, Lewis said, laughing.
“Winning this week would be too perfect for Marathon … make it too easy on them.”
On a serious note, she’s proud of whatever role she played in the tournament’s new sponsorship.
“I’ve always said at the end of the day I want to leave this tour better than when I got here,” she said. “Getting tournament sponsors and increasing purses and things like that, that’s what we’re trying to do here. So I feel like I’ve at least accomplished something for one week. Now we’ve got to keep it going.”
That way she can continue as Ms. Marathon. At the Marathon Classic.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.