Ben James (AJGA photo)
of Milford, Conn., dominated the Boys Division at Karsten Creek, while Gianna Clemente
(Warren, Ohio) became the youngest champion in PING Invitational history.
The 15th PING Invitational showcased the best of the next generation of future college and professional stars. Host venue Karsten Creek is home to the Oklahoma State University Men's and Women's Golf teams. The course was ranked No. 24 in Golf Digest's list of "America's 100 Greatest Public Courses" for 2021-22.
The tournament field was loaded with talent. Of the 72 players in the field, there were 56 AJGA champions, including four 2021 Invitational winners. Additionally, there were 33 college commits and 33 Rolex Junior All-Americans. Players hailed from 17 states and five international countries.
James cruised through Karsten Creek in the first two rounds, posting a 2-under-par 70 in round one and a 5-under-par 67 in round two. His 36-hole total of 7-under-par 137 was good enough for a nine-shot lead heading into the final round.
After finishing tied for 10th at last year's PING Invitational, James was able to treat today's round as a victory lap in his final appearance at the tournament. The University of Virginia commit played steady with just two bogeys over his first 14 holes. James rallied for an even-par round from there, birdieing Nos. 17 and 18 to close out the tournament at 7-under-par 209 for a nine-shot win.
This is just the latest achievement in an unforgettable junior golf season in which James has already won two AJGA Invitationals (Team TaylorMade Invitational and The Junior PLAYERS Championship). The two-time Rolex Junior All-American also won the Scott Robertson Memorial and the Northern Junior Championship.
"This is my last year playing here, so it feels awesome to go out with a win at such a tough track. Hopefully, I'll be back here in the future for some NCAA Regionals or Finals. I just love this place."
Caleb Surratt of Indian Trail, North Carolina, carded the lowest final round of the Boys Division with a 2-under-par 70 to grab second place at 2-over-par 218. The University of Tennessee commit is No. 3 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings and has two national junior golf victories on the year at the Western Junior Championship and the Boys Junior PGA Championship.
Aaron Pounds of The Woodlands, Texas, finished third at 4-over-par 220. Pounds is committed to Texas A&M University and finished T4 at the Jack Burke Jr. Invitational in August.
Nicholas Prieto of Miami, finished fourth at 6-over-par 222. At No. 45 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings, his best finish this year was T3 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational Junior honoring Jim Bell.
Wells Williams of West Point, Mississippi, finished fifth at 7-over-par 223. The Vanderbilt University commit is a two-time Rolex Junior All-American.
Clemente becomes the youngest champion in PING Invitational history
Despite opening the tournament with a 5-over-par 77, Clemente quickly made her way to the top of the leaderboard after posting a 4-under-par 68 in the second round. That round proved to be the lowest of the tournament in the Girls Division. Entering the final round with a two-stroke lead at 1-over-par 145, Clemente knew she had to play her game to secure the win.
"I was talking to my dad about it this morning and it pretty much kept the same mindset I had the last two days," said Clemente. "So much can happen on this golf course within a span of like three holes, so I just wanted to make sure to play my game."
Clemente tested her fortitude early on in the final round, as she bogeyed two of her first five holes. She got back on track from there with four pars to close out her front nine, making the turn tied for the lead at 2-over-par 38.
After making another bogey on the par-4 No. 10 and falling one back of the lead, Clemente flipped the switch. She went 2-under with three birdies over her final eight holes to post a 1-under-par 35 back nine for a final-round total of 1-over-par 73. She closed out the tournament with a birdie on No. 18 to seal the four-shot win at 2-over-par 218.
At 13 years, six months, and 18 days, Clemente is the youngest champion in PING Invitational history. She joins the likes of Alison Lee, Nelly Korda and Rose Zhang to win the Girls Division.
"I remember walking in during the practice round and I stopped for a second and looked at the names and I didn't realize how many of the names I knew," Clemente said. "I just thought, 'Dang, I really that hope my name will be on there someday.'
Making history is nothing new to Clemente, who became the fifth-youngest girl to win an AJGA tournament when she won the 2020 Coca-Cola Junior Championship at Boyne Highlands in her first AJGA appearance.
Clemente is a 2020 Rolex Junior All-American and No. 34 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings. This win caps off a recent stretch where she's won the AJGA Junior at Big Sky and finished third at the UHY Albany Junior and the KPMG Stacy Lewis Junior All-Star Invitational. Despite such strong results, her eyes were always set on winning The PING Invitational.
"I had a really hard summer, not just on the golf course, but off the golf course, so I was really working toward this event," said Clemente. "My whole mindset was just working towards this and it feels amazing to win my first Invitational here."
Jaclyn LaHa of Pleasanton, California, and Lucy Yuan of (Canada) San Diego, finished T2 at 6-over-par 222.
LaHa is verbally committed to the University of Virginia and was a 2020 Rolex Junior All-American. She entered the week at No. 30 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings with a recent fifth-place finish at the Mariah Stackhouse Girls Invitational.
Yuan is No. 21 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings and already owns three AJGA victories in her first three seasons on the circuit. The 2024 grad won the 2019 Golf Performance Center Junior All-Star, the 2020 AJGA Stan Utley and Mid-America Youth Golf Foundation Junior All-Star, and the 2021 Lanto Junior Championship.
Bailey Shoemaker of Dade City, Florida, rallied for a fourth-place finish after carding the lowest round of the day at 3-under-par 69. She finished the tournament at 7-over-par 223. The University of Southern California commit won the Sung Hyun Park Junior Championship back in April.
Kynadie Adams of Nashville, Tennessee, finished fifth at 8-over-par 224. The University of Alabama commit was a 2020 Rolex Junior All-American.
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