SACRAMENTO – Griffin Long has spent a lot of time playing the Alister MacKenzie Golf Course, a par-72, 7,030-yard championship layout at the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, over the years.
“I’ve never really had a ton of success on it,” said Long, who is from nearby Davis.
Some of the latest scores that he has posted at the MacKenzie Course are starting to tell a different story for Long, who recently completed his sophomore year at University of the Pacific in Stockton.
Michael Cliff, the 2019 champion who is from Fresno (pictured here), is among a group tied for sixth at 70. Matthew Sutherland of Carmichael and Michael Carrillo of Chualar also shot 70s.
Long shot a 4-under-par 68 in the second round of the California State Fair Amateur Championship last year. On Saturday, Long opened the Sacramento City Men’s Golf Championship shooting a 68 – a stellar round on the scenic tree-lined course that was highlighted by six birdies.
“I’ve been playing here since I was like 12 years old,” he said. “I’ve kind of figured out how to play it a lot better, so it’s starting to grow on me.
“I’ve always liked playing out here.”
There was a lot for Long to like about his round to start off the 100th anniversary of the Sacramento City Men’s Golf Championship, an event that is presented by the Sacramento Golf Council. He got off to a super start, with birdies on Nos. 1, 4 and 7 on the front nine, followed by additional birdies on Nos. 13, 14 and 17. His only bogeys for the day came on No. 9 and No. 11.
Long, a 2019 Davis High School graduate who plays on the UOP men’s golf team, is in first place, atop the leaderboard. He is one shot in front of four players who are tied for second and two strokes in front of three players who are tied for sixth place.
“Overall, I was really happy with how I played early, through like 8,” said Long, who is majoring in finance. “It was a good day.
Jeremy Sanchez of Elk Grove, Jonathan Tanihana of Sacramento, Garett Wagner of Brentwood and Nathan Wang of Fremont are tied for second place, each with 3-under 69s.
The two-day, 36-hole event concludes Sunday with the final round. The leaders go off at 1 p.m., and players are grouped in threesomes.
“I dropped a couple of shots midway through the round. I was able to pick up three birdies coming in, which I was really happy with,” said Long.
He made a 30-foot putt for birdie on the par-4, 420-yard 13th hole.
“It was really nice going out early in the morning, as there wasn’t too much wind and the greens were really good. I just kept it in good spots coming into the greens,” he said.
Long gained some additional momentum, making birdie putts from four feet on No. 14 and six feet on No. 17.
“My mindset is that I always kind of have an idea of how aggressive I’m going to be before the day starts. Apart from that, just try take it one shot at a time and do the best I can on every shot,” he said. “I just try and keep it simple.
“I was feeling really comfortable early. I felt good all day. I’m in a good spot.”
Long, 20, plays out of Davis Golf Course and El Macero Country Club. He played in four events as a freshman in 2019-20 for UOP. As a sophomore, he placed in several spring season events:
- Tied for 32nd at the El Macero Classic, which was hosted by UC Davis.
- Tied for 82nd at the Goodwin tournament, played at Stanford Golf Course.
- Tied for 11th at the Grand Canyon Invitational in Phoenix.
- Tied for 27th at the Sacramento State Invitational, played in Elk Grove.
- Tied for 36th at The Joust, which was hosted by California Baptist in Jurupa Valley, Calif.
- Tied for 13th at the Nick Watney Invitational in Fresno.
- At Davis High, Long won the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championship at The Reserve at Spanos Park in Stockton.
- As a junior player, he was the 2016-17 Future Collegiate World Tour Player of the Year after winning two events and recording six top-10 finishes. He also won on the Junior Golf Association of Northern California circuit.
The Sacramento City has a sold-out field of 123 players. The leaderboard features 22 players who shot even par or lower. The course’s greens are putting up a defense as they are fast.
It was sunny, with afternoon temperatures ranging from the low 80s to 90, with a very light wind out of the southwest. Play began at 7 a.m., and continued throughout the day.
“For this time of year, the golf course is in very good shape. It’s very fair to everybody,” said David Eisner, the tournament director, who is with the Sacramento Golf Council. “The pin placements reflect that. It’s a good a good test for all the players.”
It’s a tournament rich in history and prestige, dating back to 1921. It’s been won by the likes of Bob E. Smith, Bob Eastwood, Mark Wiebe, Spencer Levin, Matt Bettencourt, Bob Niger, Verne Callison, Frank Toronto, Ray Arrino, Phil Arrino, Joey Ferrari, Dave Carr, Dave Baskins and Lou Alvarez. It’s also a Northern California Golf Association points event – attracting a very strong field, with college players and juniors and top amateurs in the area.
“It’s not a matter of one or two guys being outstanding. We have many players that are outstanding players with a great future ahead of them,” said Eisner.
“A lot of the younger players that are playing in this tournament are trying to get the attention of college coaches, so they can move on with their scholarships and all that. And we get the amateur golfers who have been around here for a long time that are just proud to still be playing quality golf and also be in the hunt.”
They are chasing after the crystal trophy, which will be awarded during a ceremony near the 18th green to the champion and presented by John Nakamura, a former NCGA President, who also serves as a U.S. Golf Association and NCGA rules official.
“John is such a well-liked person who been involved in the golf community for 50 years, at least, and is well respected by everybody,” said Eisner.
The tournament winner will also have his name inscribed on the perpetual trophy.
“We have been working hard to rebuild it, to what it used to be with the field, as deep as it is and everything. We think we’ve been very successful,” said Eisner.
The tournament is open to all male amateur golfers with a current World Handicap System Index of 5.0 or less, according to the Sacramento Golf Council, which also puts on two dozen events during the year.
Cliff, who graduated recently from Fresno State with a degree in communications, opened with a 2-under 70.
“I hit it really well off the tee,” he said. “I just kind of played steady. I didn’t putt too good or too bad. I made a couple good saves early on, which gave me some good momentum going into the final stretch. And I was just kind of hanging around even (par) all day. It was a good finish to get me into red numbers, which was my goal.”
Winning in 2019 puts Cliff in very elite company, with his name alongside so many of the greats in Sacramento and Northern California golf history
“Anytime you are able to get into the winner’s circle, it’s a good thing. And especially with a tournament like this, with such a rich, rich history and a lot of great players playing in the past. It just shows that I have maybe the potential to be like them. It shows that I have won on the course where a lot of great players have won on so that gives me a lot of confidence, but it gives me a lot of pride, just in accomplishing that feat. And knowing that I have done what other people have done before me in the same fashion, or the same style, is pretty cool to think about. It was definitely a cool experience to win in 2019.”
Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016.