Jaden Dumdumaya (right) with his brother and caddie Vohn
has been one of the top junior players in Northern California for several years. Today, on his third try -- after just turning 16 in June -- he won his biggest open amateur title with a one-shot victory at the California State Fair Amateur. He also became the youngest winner in this tournament's 98-year history
The De La Salle H.S. junior defeated a largely collegiate field including recent Fresno State graduate Michael Cliff
, who threw everything he had at him in the final round with a tournament-low 64 which gave him the clubhouse lead for over an hour.
Dumdumaya started the final round one shot behind 36-hole leader Blake Brothers, and a stroke ahead of Jacob Westberg. What the 16-year-old junior golf standout from Fairfield didn't know is that his biggest challenge wouldn't come from those two members of his final group but from Cliff, who started five shots behind him in a group that teed off an hour in front of his.
The change in the leaderboard may have surprised Dumdumaya and anyone else watching the action, but it was all part of the day's plan for Cliff, whose game sets up perfectly for the Alister MacKenzie Course at Haggin Oaks. (He also posted 64 in the second round in 2019, when he finished second behind
back-to-back champion Devon Bling
"I love Haggin Oaks because you can hit driver on every hole and that’s the best club in my bag," said Cliff in a phone interview with AmateurGolf.com. "I hit it pretty straight and pretty far. I have a lot of wedges into par-4s and long irons into par 5’s."
Cliff paid off those drives with three birdies on par-5s, four on par-4s and a two on the par-3 12th. He got to 7-under on the day through No. 15 and said he "did a pretty good job not looking at the leaderboard until No. 18," where his second shot left him with 45 feet for eagle. "Once I saw that Dumdumaya was 13-under, I knew I needed to take a run at my eagle putt," Cliff said.
The 45-foot putt, struck with perfect speed, just missed low and left but did leave an easy tap-in birdie. That set the stage for a long break for Cliff where he stayed cool inside, talked to friends and family on the phone, and didn't watch the Golf Genius app until things were close to wrapping up.
After nearly reaching the green in two on No. 18, Dumdumaya hit a solid chip that he said took a weird bounce, resulting in a slick downhill left-to-right putt for birdie and the outright win. With a crowd of 50-60 people surrounding the green, he knocked it in like a player who has done this many times before.
"It was great hearing the crowd clap and cheer for me and holding that big trophy," said Dumdumaya.
HOW IT GOT SO CLOSE
Jaden Dumdumaya (Sac Golf Council)
The way Dumdumaya started his round, it didn't seem that anyone could possibly catch him. After making birdies on the first and third holes, Dumdumaya eagled the par-5 4th, to get to 4-under on the day and 13-under on the tournament.
"I was pretty pumped up after the first two birdies," said Dumdumaya. "On the fourth hole, I had 250 yards to the pin for my second shot and 235 to clear the water. I talked it over with my caddie, and we decided to go for it." [his 30-year-old brother Vohn, ed.]."
But the quick start didn't last, as Dumdumaya "started to play a little more passively." As he was finishing the front nine, Cliff was setting the MacKenzie course on fire and finishing a full hour in front of the leaders.
As the leading groups made their way down the stretch, it became clear that the man to beat was Dumdumaya, who fell back into a tie with Cliff after a bogey on No. 13. With a pair of par fives to close, and almost everyone making birdie on the 18th, Cliff could only hope that he would have a chance to get some extra holes in. (Especially after going bogey-free in the final round.)
With the outcome in his own hands, Dumdumaya pulled from the experience he got playing in front of cameras at the Drive, Chip, and Putt at Augusta National (he won his 14-15 age group this year) and competing in national championships like the Western Junior and U.S. Junior Amateur, where he made match play in July. He made a birdie thanks to that beautiful six-foot closing putt, avoiding a playoff that would have transpired during the hottest part of a record-breaking day.
And get this -- he almost didn't get to play the tournament. Just over a week ago, Dumdumaya tested positive for Covid-19. Although his symptoms started to wane coming into the weekend, he wasn't sure until testing negative right before the tournament that he would be able to play.
"I was still pretty weak in the first two rounds," said Dumdumaya. "I used a cold towel during the final round when the temperature reached 110 degrees."
As his father drove him home to Fairfield, Dumdumaya caught some hard-earned sleep in the back seat.
Tied for third were Matthew Sutherland of Carmichael (final round 67), Lucas Carper of Auburn (70), and Joey Zambri of Camarillo (66). All finished at 10-under.
Defending champ Kuangyu "Tony" Chen (Berkeley); Jacob Westerberg (Sacramento); Casey Leebrick (San Luis Obispo); AJ Fitzgerald (Salinas); and Mark Stephens of Redding finished in a five-way tie for 6th place at 8-under, rounding out the top-10.
The State Fair has a traditionally difficult 36-hole cut; this year was no different as it fell at 2-under 142.