Sacramento State’s Sienna Lynford takes on the 2023 U.S. Women’s Amateur!

Sienna Lyford: A Journey from the First Tee of Sacramento to the U.S. Women’s Amateur | Sacramento Golf Story

Sienna Lyford
Photos are of Sienna Lyford Courtesy of MARTY JAMES

Sienna Lyford has a lot going on in her life.

She is working full-time for an insurance company, Burns and Wilcox, in her hometown of Roseville.
She is in a master’s program, studying business analytics, at Sacramento State.

She also finds time for golf – a game that she became involved in by joining First Tee – Greater Sacramento years ago. She continued in golf, playing for Granite Bay High School and also in college, first for UC Irvine and then for Sacramento State.

“I don’t think I would have picked up the game if it wasn’t for the First Tee. That’s how I got started,” Lyford said in a phone interview. “Once I got started with First Tee, I saw other girls that were playing golf and got to make a lot of friends through the program. It definitely kept me wanting to play because I had friends out there. So, that was huge for me.”

After working during the day and then taking night classes for college, Lyford heads to the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento at around 10 p.m. She is on the driving range for the next two hours, hitting shots and doing all she can to keep her game going. “I usually practice there until midnight. That’s the only time that I can get out there. So, I’m just going to keep practicing when I have time,” she said.
“It’s been pretty exhausting. But it’s kind of my only choice to get any time to practice. Luckily, Haggin Oaks is open until midnight, and that I have access to the driving range. “That’s kind of my routine, and preparing for the (U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship) especially.”

It’s been a very good year for Lyford, 23.

Playing for Sacramento State as a graduate student, she was named second-team All-Big Sky Conference. She tied for low medalist honors in a tournament and helped the Hornets to the Big Sky championship, one of five titles during the 2022-23 season for Sac State. In addition, the Hornets earned two student-athlete awards as announced by Sacramento State Athletics: Women’s Academic Team of the Year and Female Team Performance of the Year.

“The strength of her game is that, mentally, she’s really good. She plays really efficiently,” head coach David Sutherland said. “In terms of around the greens, she’s got a great short game, and she hits a ton of fairways. As the year went along, I started realizing that she wasn’t just a good college player, but she was really an elite player. She really elevated her game in the second part of our season to being, at times, a dominant collegiate golfer where she was just so hyper efficient at the golf game, that she’s really hard to beat.”

Getting to play her final year of college golf for Sac State meant the world to Lyford, as her mom, Cindy Mah-Lyford, is the team’s assistant coach. Additionally, she learned so much more about the game from Sutherland, named as the 2023 Jeff Smith Big Sky Women’s Golf Coach of the Year. Sutherland was also named as the Sacramento State Coach of the Year.

“When we first found out that we could take the extra year for COVID, I initially didn’t think that I was going to do it. But then as my four years were kind of coming to an end, I realized that I wasn’t quite ready to be done with college golf,” said Lyford. “I felt like coming back home to play for Sac State, it was a really good move for me, just in terms of my golf game, being close to where I have my dad (Keith Lyford) to get whatever swing tips I need, whenever I need it.

“I just thought that Sac State would be a really good place for me to improve and then it would be a great way to kind of finish out my college career. It turned out to be like everything that I could have dreamed of. We won five times as a team. We won the conference championship. My mom was able to walk with me on the last hole when I had an individual win. It was just a super cool experience. It went better than I could have imagined.”

In addition, a huge highlight for Lyford was also playing in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, at Bel-Air Country Club, in Los Angeles. She finished second on July 20 in a qualifying, shooting a 1-under-par 69 at La Rinconada Country Club, in Los Gatos, and was one of six players to advance to the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Lyford had five birdies and four bogeys during her round at La Rinconada, a private, par-70, 6,079-yard layout. There were 74 players in the field.

“Those qualifiers are always a little intense, just because it’s only one round, and if it’s not your day, then that’s the only chance that you get that year,” said Lyford. “This year, I work full-time now, so I probably practice less than I ever have in a summer before. So, I kind of just went into that qualifier without having really any expectations, just because I knew that probably the other girls are practicing a lot more than I had been. But I knew that it probably was like one of my last shots at making it to the (U.S. Women’s Amateur) before my game gets too rusty.

“It was something that I really wanted to qualify for. My dad was on the bag (as caddie) at the qualifier as well. I was playing really well. I was putting really good that day. I knew that if I posted a good number that I’d have a good chance, and luckily finished second in the qualifier and we got to go to the (U.S. Women’s Amateur). So, that was really exciting.”
Exciting, indeed.

Playing in U.S. Women’s Amateur
The U.S. Golf Association accepted a record 1,679 entries for the 123rd U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, Aug 7-13 at Bel-Air Country Club, in Los Angeles. It’s a par-70, 6,187-yard course and opened in 1927.

Sienna Lyford
Photos are of Sienna Lyford courtesy of MARTY JAMES

The field consisted of 156 players. The event is open to any female amateur whose Handicap Index does not exceed 5.4, the USGA said. Qualifying, over 18 holes, was held at 25 sites, between June 19 and July 20, the USGA said.

Lyford shot rounds of 72 and 73 for a 5-over-par 145 total in 36-hole stroke play qualifying. Unfortunately, she missed the cut by just one shot. The low 64 players after 36 holes of stroke play advance to match play.

“I do feel like I played pretty well for the two rounds of stroke play. It’s a bummer that I missed the cut by one, but I was happy with how I played that week,” she said. “Playing with the best amateurs in the country is always a really good experience.

“There were a couple of holes where we made a couple of wrong club choices, and that got me in trouble a couple of times. But overall, I was hitting the ball great. I was putting really good. I made some really good up and downs coming down the stretch, just to try to give myself a chance. It was unfortunate that it wasn’t quite enough. But I was happy with my game, for sure.

“The golf course was incredible. It was in great shape. It’s probably one of the best courses I’ve ever played. The conditions were as pure as it can get.”

Lyford was able to play two practice rounds at Bel-Aire prior to stroke play qualifying.
The field consisted of players from 32 states and 17 countries. Lyford was one of 29 players from California in the field.

“It’s cool to see all these different amateurs that I’ve seen on TV, playing in previous U.S. Amateurs and playing in the NCAA Championships. I always watch those on TV. So, being in the same field as them, being in the locker room with them, it’s a very unique experience. I think it added definitely another layer of pressure that I probably haven’t felt before. But I just felt really lucky to be there,” said Lyford.

Golf family
Lyford, who plays out of Whitney Oaks Golf Club in Rocklin, is part of a golfing family. She continues to work on her swing with her dad, Keith Lyford, a former PGA Tour player who is the Director of Instruction at Old Greenwood Golf Course in Truckee, and on the staff at Whitney Oaks.

“He’s been my swing coach for my whole golf career,” said Sienna. “He basically made my entire golf swing. He knows my swing better than anyone else. So, it was really nice being home this past season, because anytime there was like something slightly off, he would be able to catch it before it got too far off. We have a great relationship on the golf course. He’s just really good at course strategy, but also with my swing. So, all parts of my golf game he’s really helped.”

Cindy Mah-Lyford has been at Sac State for the last eight years. She played professionally on the Ladies European Tour and also the LPGA Tour. She played collegiately at Long Beach State and played in nine USGA championships, including two appearances in the U.S. Women’s Open, three appearances at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links, and three appearances at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
As head coach, she led St. Francis High-Sacramento to five straight trips to the postseason and was named as the Northern California Girls’ Golf Coach of the Year by the California Coaches’ Association in 2013-14.

Sienna Lyford is a 2018 Granite Bay High graduate. She was named first team All-Sierra Foothill League each of her four years for the Grizzlies. She advanced to the CIF State Championships in 2017 after finishing second individually at the Northern California regionals. With Lyford in the lineup, Granite Bay won three SFL and three CIF Sac-Joaquin Section titles.
She was named to the Sacramento All-City Team in 2016.
Sienna Lyford benefited from the year she spent playing for Sac State and being with her mom throughout the fall and spring seasons.

“Having my mom there also is just like this extra sense of comfort, especially when we’re traveling so much,” she said.

Sienna also played in the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Poppy Hills Golf Course, located at Pebble Beach, in 2018. She also played in Junior Tour of Northern California and Northern California Golf Association events.
As a member of First Tee – Greater Sacramento, she was selected to play in the PURE Insurance Championship Impacting First Tee in 2017. It’s a PGA Tour Champions event at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

Collegiate career
Lyford started out her college career at UC Irvine. She was in the program there for four years (2019-2022). She graduated from UC Irvine, earning a degree in economics, and then transferred to Sac State.
At UC Irvine, she was named as a four-time All-American Scholar by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association.

“She was a great player at Irvine. She had such a quality experience in Irvine,” said Sutherland. “But I do think the chance to play on a team that was as good as our team, but also with her mom for a year, that’s where it’s like really cool.
“She really connected with the girls on the team. She really kind of made the most of the year. For me as a coach, I just love her. She was incredibly respectful of me as a coach and super coachable. Even though I only had here for a year, I really felt like she listened and improved a lot over the course of that year.

“She may have been our best player, the last two months of the season. She won at BYU. That’s a really great golf course. She really was that sort of rock for us that week. “She really was like a different golfer at the end her the year than she was at the start of it.“She went on and played great at both our conference championship and at regionals.”

Lyford will complete her masters in May of 2024. Lyford had an outstanding 2022-23 season for the Hornets. The highlights, according to Sacramento State Athletics, at

  • 73.74 scoring average moves her to 13th on the school single-season list and No. 5 on the all-time career chart.
  • Tied for individual low medalist at the Riverside Classic, hosted by BYU, in April, at Riverside Country Club, in Provo, Utah.
  • Third-place finish at the Big Sky Championships, in April, at Talking Stick Golf Club, in Scottsdale, Ariz.
  • Eighth-place finish at the Wyoming Cowgirl Classic, in April, at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Club, in Maricopa, Ariz.
    “The team was super strong, with really hard-working girls. So, being around them every day just made me have to work even harder,” said Lyford. “So, I think this past season, I saw my game improve a lot. And that’s really due to the coaches and also just the teammates that I was with every day.”
    It was a great learning experience for Lyford as she worked very closely with Sutherland on her swing and made great improvement with her short game.
    “I would just love to have had four years with her,” said Sutherland. “She was such a great person and to be around.”
    Sutherland was a two-time All-American at Fresno State and went on to play the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour.
    “Coach Sutherland makes the team environment just a lot of fun. He’s such an experienced player. He’s a really good coach with tons of knowledge about golf. So, any question that you have, it’s great to just pick his brain. I learned a lot about short game this season from him,” said Lyford.
    Summer golf in Sacramento
    It’s been a super summer of tournament golf for Lyford, who has won a Sacramento Golf Council event and finished second in one other.
    She won the 88th annual Sacramento City Women’s Golf Championship, June 24-25 at Bing Maloney Golf Course. She shot 73-68 – 141.
    She finished second in the Sacramento County Women’s Championship, July 29-30, at Mather Golf Course. She shot 73-71 – 144.
    Lyford is hoping to play in the 28th State Fair Women’s Championship, Sept. 2-3, at Bartley Cavanaugh Golf Course in Sacramento. It’s an NCGA points tournament.
    “It’s been a really good summer, which is kind of something I didn’t really expect, especially after transitioning to working full time,” she said.
    “I think I just enjoy golf a lot more now and I really appreciate it a lot more. So that might have something to do with how I’ve been playing, too.
    “I think coming back from the (U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship), I think my game is probably sharper than it has been in a long time. Just because, at Bel-Aire Country Club, you have to play good out there. I think it just makes you a better player and makes you sharper.
    “We’ll see how it goes. I am taking a few days off of golf right now. I have finals, so focusing on school this week and then we’ll hopefully get back out to practicing to get ready for the State Fair.”
  • 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.

Marty James

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