U.S. GIRLS' JUNIOR
Sienna Lyford Follows in Mother’s USGA Championship Footsteps July 18, 2018 | Pebble Beach, Calif. By Tom Mackin

Sienna Lyford has put herself in position to qualify for match play in her first appearance in a USGA championship. (USGA/JD Cuban)

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Sienna Lyford has heard all about the nine USGA championships in which her mother, Cindy Mah–Lyford, played during the 1980s and 1990s. This week, it’s Sienna’s turn to create some memories of her own.

The 18-year-old from Roseville, Calif., is competing in the 70th U.S. Girls’ Junior at Poppy Hills Golf Course after attempting to qualify for the past four years.

“This has been a big goal for me for a long time, especially since my mom has told me a lot of stories about her USGA experiences,” she said. “To finally be able to play in my first championship, and in Northern California where I grew up, is really cool.”

She is also enjoying a home-field advantage of sorts, playing at a course she knows very well. And it showed, as Lyford posted a solid 1-over-par 72 in Monday’s Round 1. Through 27 holes of the championship, she stood at 5 over par and was battling to qualify for match play when the fog-delayed second round resumed on Wednesday.

“I’ve probably played Poppy Hills 20 times in NCGA (Northern California Golf Association, which has its headquarters located on-site at Poppy Hills) and Junior Tour of Northern California events, plus countless practice rounds,” she said. “There are definitely a lot of places you don’t want to miss in, so it helps to know little details like those.”

Lyford qualified for the championship at The Reserve at Spanos Park in Stockton, Calif., just two days after caddieing for her mother as she tried to qualify at The Olympic Club in San Francisco for the inaugural 2018 U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

Although she was unsuccessful in her first competitive golf outing in 22 years, Cindy Mah-Lyford did play in two U.S. Women’s Opens (finishing tied for 26th in 1993 and missing the cut in 1995), three consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links (reaching the quarterfinals each time) and three U.S. Women’s Amateurs.

“My husband and I are so thrilled for Sienna,” said Mah-Lyford, who is married to Keith Lyford, a Sacramento-based Golf Magazine Top 100 instructor. “USGA championships are hard to crack into. So I told her once you get into that first one, the next one should be easier.”

Mah-Lyford recalled the emotions she felt playing in her first Women’s Open at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind.

“I was pretty much a nobody on a big stage,” she said. “Then you see players like Betsy King and Nancy Lopez, people you’ve seen on TV. Being in the midst of all those people and playing with them, that was pretty heady. That’s what I was most proud of though, being able to play with them after I felt pretty small when that week started.”

She believes her daughter may be going through similar emotions at Poppy Hills, competing this week against Northern California stalwarts Lucy Li and Yealimi Noh as well as other elite juniors.

“Sienna follows the top junior players and knows all the names. I think she is experiencing a bit of the same thing that I did,” said Mah-Lyford. “The fact that she got off to a good start in the first round of stroke play shows that she knows she can play with the best players here.”

Mah-Lyford splits the coaching duties with her husband, with Keith handling the lion’s share of swing instruction and on-course training. But Mah-Lyford did have some specific advice when it came to her daughter’s first USGA championship.

“She told me I was probably going to be nervous and there will be a lot of really good players out here,” said Sienna. “USGA championships are just very special. They’re set up like a professional event with all the scoreboards, and sometimes everything can look kind of overwhelming. But she told me to just play my game, that I’m ready to be here and I deserve to be here, so just be confident, take it all in and have a good time.”

While it would be easy for the Lyfords to talk golf 24 hours a day, the family tries hard to avoid that.

“Sometimes, we talk a lot about golf and sometimes after a tournament I just don’t want to talk about it anymore,” said Sienna, who will play at the University of California-Irvine in the fall. “But it is very helpful because any time I have a quick swing question, I have resources for that right at home.”

Mah-Lyford keeps her competitive juices flowing with family putting contests and regular nine-hole matches against Sienna.

 “It’s really fun,” said Sienna. “She has beaten me a couple of times, but I have to say it’s usually me winning. She won’t like me saying that.”

What Mah-Lyford does like seeing is her daughter building her own USGA championship legacy.

“When I played at Long Beach State University, my coach there had played in some USGA championships and she wore her badges,” she said. “So that was something I really wanted for myself, like a badge of honor. I think that feeling was kind of passed down to Sienna.”

“My mom has showed me all of her USGA medals and locker room badges from those championships that she keeps in a box at home,” said Sienna. “Now I will have my own badge that I can show to people.”

Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites. Email him at temackinjr@gmail.com.