Photo courtesy of USGA/Chris Keane. Gianna Clemente hits an approach shot on the first hole during the round of 16 of this year’s USA Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at the Grand Reserve Golf Club in Puerto Rico on Saturday.

Golf is in Gianna Clemente’s blood.

Since she was 18 months old, Clemente has had a golf club in her hands, and at the age of 5, Clemente entered her first competitive golf tournament.

“She really grew up on a golf course,” her father Patrick said. “She played other sports growing up – she played softball and tennis and stuff – but she really gelled with golf. Golf courses in our family. I played college golf at YSU and my brother played at Akron.

The now 14-year-old Warren resident, who started training on the Avalon Lakes green and at Squaw Creek with her dad as a toddler, has now become a budding star on the world junior golf circuit, having climbed to No. 6 in the Rolex American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) rankings.

“She started playing bigger regional and national events from the age of 7 – she won a few world titles at ages 7 and 10,” Patrick said. “From there, we gave him the chance to play all over the country. She’s really embraced him and she’s a competitive, driven kid who really loves traveling and loves tournaments.

Last week, she and playing partner Avery Zweig, of McKinney, Texas, competed as a team in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at the Grand Reserve Golf Club in Puerto Rico.

The duo shot 7-under 137 for both rounds of stroke play to finish tied for sixth, before retiring in the round of 16 of the ensuing 3-and-2 match play tournament.

“I think we both played really good golf,” Clemente said. “The course was quite difficult – when you’re on an island right next to the ocean, it’s obviously windy. We played well in our first match and came back after being down most of the day. Unfortunately, with our second, the two girls we were playing against were emptying every putt. We just didn’t have as many birdies as we needed.

The two qualified for the event for the first time last year and came close to winning it, despite being the youngest team in the field – Clemente and Zweig finished tied for first or co-medalists with two other pairs during stroke play, then fell in the semi-finals to the extra holes of the tournament in match play.

Unlike normal one-on-one stroke play tournaments, the two must work together as a team in the four-ball or “best ball” format.

“I think Avery hits it a little bit further and gets a little bit more off the tee,” Clemente said. “But I always help her if she gets in trouble, and I know if I get in trouble she’s going to birdie and that’s really important.”

Clemente is used to playing on big stages like she did in Puerto Rico, but she’s different from most players she competes against at the junior and amateur level in that she’s usually one younger players on the field. She became the third youngest player to qualify for a US Women’s Amateur in 2019 at Old Waverly at the age of 11.

His youth, however, did not hinder his success. She finished in the top 5 in all three AJGA tournaments she entered this year, was a two-time AJGA All-American, and won several other titles during her career.

“I’m the youngest I can remember,” Clemente said. “It doesn’t really bother me anymore. I know to win I really have to play and focus on myself and not focus on someone else. I just have to remind myself that I worked hard to get there and remind myself that I deserve to be here.

Clemente is about to enter a key stage in her golf career. She is part of the class of 2026, which means she will start high school in the fall as part of her virtual education program.

She attended John F. Kennedy until third grade, but then her parents made the difficult decision to transition her to virtual homeschooling to give her the flexibility to travel to compete in tournaments.

“It gave him quite a bit of structure,” Patrick said. “She works hard in the mornings and evenings at school and still has plenty of hours on the golf course to practice. Traveling to all these tournaments… the social side of the golf tournaments was a real bonus. Some of her best friends live all over the country and she sees them quite regularly because they are doing something similar.

Zweig is an example of one of the close friends Clemente found while playing competitive golf.

But, like most talented young golfers, Clemente wants to play in college and eventually move on to a professional playing career, which means her high school years will be pivotal in terms of whether she’s recruited and where she wants to go playing. .

“I still have plenty of time for college, even high school, but it’s something I want to do,” Clemente said. “I don’t know where I want to go yet, but it’s definitely something I want to do.”

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