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Santa Fe golfer Lee Sanchez will be playing for a little piece of history this week.
Sanchez, one of the top amateur golfers in the state, will be heading to Los Alamos Golf Course to defend his title at the Atomic City Invitational.
The Atomic City Invitational, the premier event hosted by LAGC, starts with championship flight qualifying Wednesday. Match play competition begins Thursday.
The ACI is believed to be the oldest match play tournament in the state. Instead of golfers playing against the entire field to see who can shoot the lowest score, match play pits two players against each other. The one who wins the most holes head-to-head takes the victory.
“It’s totally different in match play than in medal play,” Sanchez said. “You can have a big number on one hole and it doesn’t matter. It only costs you one hole. It doesn’t take you out of a match.”
Not only will Sanchez be trying to defend his two-year reign at the 2010 ACI, he will be attempting to tie the record for most career victories at the 60-year-old tournament.
The tournament was first played in 1950 with Roswell’s Clyde Blackwell taking the first championship. The 2000 tournament was canceled due to the Cerro Grande Fire, the only year it had to be shelved.
Sanchez, who also won the tournament in both 1997 and 1998, could tie career victories all-time leader Fred Seeley, who won five tournaments between 1976-1989.
While grabbing part of that distinction would be an impressive accomplishment, Sanchez said he’s not dwelling on the possibility too much heading into the tournament.
“I’m just going to go out there and have a good time,” Sanchez said. “People in Los Alamos are always good to me. I have fun. I see a lot of people. Whatever happens, happens. I’m just going to go out and play the best I can.”
Sanchez, the top seed in the championship flight last year, cruised to victory, closing out all three of his elimination matches with holes to spare, including topping two-time tournament champion, Los Alamos’ Cale Jones, in the 27-hole tournament final, 6 and 5.
While Sanchez said he was playing some of his best golf in 2009 – he was named co-Sun Country Player of the Year, winning the New Mexico-West Texas Senior Amateur Championship – his 2010 has gotten off to a slow start, although he thinks his game’s starting to come around. In a pro-am early last week at Tanoan Country Club in Albuquerque, Sanchez fired a 5-under 67, which he hopes will give him momentum heading into the ACI.
In 2008, Sanchez outlasted Jason Norman in one of the best final rounds in tournament history. Norman came back from a late deficit to tie the score after 27 holes.
In his comeback, Norman hit what might have been the shot of the tournament, striking a near-perfect approach onto the eighth green to counter a good approach from Sanchez one swing earlier.
But Sanchez, on hole 28 of the final, struck the pin with his gap wedge shot from about 90 yards out to earn the sudden-death victory over Norman.
Wednesday’s championship flight qualifying round of the 2010 ACI is stroke play competition. The top 15 scores will make up the bracket along with Sanchez, who has an automatic berth into the top flight by virtue of his win last year.
At least one golfer other than Seeley – who vowed after the 2009 tournament he was going to be ready to defend his career victories title – will have his sights set on knocking Sanchez out. That would be Sanchez’s son, Marty Sanchez.
Marty Sanchez, the grandson of the Marty Sanchez whose name adorns the Links de Santa Fe golf course, was Lee’s first tournament victim in 2009. Marty, apparently, didn’t take losing to the old man very well, as he came back and handed Lee one of his few losses in 2009 a few weeks later at a Las Vegas tournament.
Marty Sanchez won the Class A-AAA high school state individual championship last month by four strokes and Lee said he’s playing very well at this stage of the 2010 season. Lee should know. He’s Marty’s prep coach at St. Michael’s High School, the two-time defending small school team champions.
Those golfers expecting Sanchez not to come out guns blazing Wednesday, however, may have another think coming. Sanchez, who had an automatic berth heading into the 2009 tournament, won the qualifying round to earn the tournament’s top seed.
He said he’s looking forward to his return to LAGC, where he hasn’t played since the 2009 ACI.
“You have to have a good short game there,” he said. “It’s short, but it’s pretty tight and the greens are pretty small. But it’s a good golf course. It sets up well for me.”
The 2010 women’s ACI will start match play Thursday.
The women’s ACI competition will be in its 56th year this year. The tournament’s first year was 1954 with Los Alamos’ Mickey Gibson taking the first championship crown.
In 2009, Martha Waters won the second ACI of her career, topping all three of her opponents in the round-robin format to win. After getting by her second-round contest against Miranda Olinger, Waters earned a 3 and 2 victory in the tournament’s final day to clinch the title.
Waters previously won the ACI in 2002.
Meanwhile, Ev Griggs, the most decorated amateur golfer in the history of Los Alamos County, said she will take part in the ACI this year.
Griggs, a 17-time Los Alamos City champion, has also won the ACI eight times, just one shy of Anita Clancy’s record nine tournament championships. — Clancy holds the record for most consecutive ACI victories as well, winning five times between 1984-1988 as Anita Sarwinski.
Clancy’s ninth victory came in 1996. Griggs won her eighth ACI title in 2006.
Griggs said she’s been shooting fairly well so far this season, but her season got off to a late start due to unpredictable weather in March and April.
The Senior Men’s ACI gets going with a championship seeding round Thursday at LAGC.
In 2009, Socorro’s Nick Silva snapped the two-year win streak of veteran Los Alamos golfer Eddie Sanchez. Silva, who was a high school competitor of Sanchez’s, handed Sanchez his first and only ACI loss since joining the senior circuit in 2007.
Silva went 3-0 in the 2009 tournament to earn the title in the first ACI he played in. Silva’s best contest of the tournament was against Sanchez, whom he met on day two of round robin play, topping the left-hander 6 and 5.
Two days earlier, Sanchez won the seeding round by two strokes over Silva.