Patrick Clemente lowered expectations when he sent emails to tournament organizers asking for his 14-year-old daughter, Gianna, to be exempt from Monday’s qualifier. While it’s easy to get one of the two Golden Ticket sponsors that book the invitees directly to their tournament, qualifying spots are still important, especially for players who don’t have LPGA Tour status.
It is a risk to give the place of Monday to a child. As a former college golfer at Youngstown State, Patrick knew this. He knew his daughter, who had won the AJGA Ping Invitational at age 13, had a good shot.
At the time of those emails, Gianna had no idea she would reach the US Girls Junior Finals.
And no one expected her to make Clemente’s family history.
But sometimes a story comes out of your mouth and you think to yourself, “Holy smoke, did that really happen?”
That’s where they are now. On Monday’s stop-and-start — a rainy day where you have to be in a good mood or in a bad marriage to end up on the golf course — Gianna Clemente teed off at 7-under par as she rounded suburban Kenwood Country Club to advance to the Kroger Queen City Championship presented by P&G. In doing so, Gianna became the second player in history to win three consecutive LPGA Tour tournaments through Monday. The other was Hae-won Han in 2001. Han was 23 at the time. Clement was 14 years old in March.
“I think it sunk in this morning,” said Clemente, though it’s not something you’d expect a 14-year-old to understand when she tied the record, which was set seven years before he was born.
“Last night was crazy because we were trying to get back to the hotel and stuff,” Gianna said. “We got back very late, and I didn’t have time to think about it. I woke up this morning and said, ‘Oh, I’m going to another LPGA event today.’ This morning was crazy thinking about the last three weeks and the qualifiers.
At the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club’s CP Women’s Open, Clements looked like something new, another youngster who caught lightning in a bottle. But a week later, not far from her hometown of Warren, Ohio, she did it again, winning a qualifier at the Dana Open and beating a healthy crop of established tour players.
At this point, she cried across the field. Two of the 22 players who attempted to make the cut on Monday broke 70. Clement shot 65 and Panarath Thanapolboniaras shot 68.
“We’ve been trying to get the lay of the land a little bit and get to know people who can help us with future releases,” Gianna says of her and Patrick’s process. “Dad sent some emails. Not all responded. But even Monday’s qualifiers were fun because I’ve never done that before.
“My dad said, ‘I think you’re going to be two.’ I got into three. They just happened to be back-to-back.
“CP was cool because it was four spots (in qualifying instead of the normal two). I didn’t have to shoot too low. I played well at Dana, too. Obviously (Kroger Queen City) was my best. It was great to be in all three, to qualify for all three. It was less.
She hasn’t cut anything yet. That’s the next goal.
“It’s a little less now,” she said. “It’s a little less stressful, especially with my dad here to help. After a few weeks, it became very tiring.
“What surprises me, really, is how casual it is out here, especially in practice rounds. Everyone just does their job. Some people pay attention to me because I’m this young. But I expected it, although that’s the best word I can use, but maybe more formal. After all, it’s just people playing golf.”
Not everyone is playing like Clement. “I see a lot of young teenagers,” says longtime agent Jay Burton, who signed legends like Laura Davis and Lissalot Neumann in their teens. And since Lydia (Co), I’ve never seen a girl where I said, ‘Yeah, that girl’s going to work.’ But I see the same thing with Gianna. She has a composure and maturity in her play and course management that you don’t find in 14-year-olds.
From Cincinnati, Clemente heads to France for the Amundi Junior Evian Cup. Then the family spends seven months of the year in Southwest Florida.
“I’m looking forward to seeing my friends again and getting back to what I call ‘normal’ racing,” she said. “It will be fun to go back. I don’t want to call it a transition because at the end of the day we’re playing golf. But I haven’t played a proper, regular junior golf tournament in a while. I’m looking forward to that.”