Gianna Clemente (l) and Yana Wilson (USGA/Kathryn Riley)
and Yana Wilson
aren’t old enough to operate a motor vehicle. But on Saturday, one of the two talented teenagers will drive off with the Glenna Collett Vare Trophy as the 73rd U.S. Girls’ Junior champion at The Club at Olde Stone.
Clemente, 14, of Estero, Fla., and Wilson, 15, of Henderson, Nev., each maneuvered their way to a pair of victories on another hot and steamy day in the Commonwealth of Kentucky to advance to the 36-hole final.
The winner not only will join legendary champions such as Mickey Wright, JoAnne Gunderson Carner, Hollis Stacy, Lexi Thompson, Ariya Jutanugarn and last month’s U.S. Women’s Open champion Minjee Lee, but she will also earn a spot in next year’s U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links.
Playing one of the best rounds of her burgeoning career, Clemente was as hot as the outside temperature (the mercury reached into the 90s again) by registering eight birdies over 13 holes in eliminating Maria Jose Marin, 16, of Colombia, 6 and 5, in the first of the two semifinal matches. Earlier on Friday, Clemente, who in 2019 became the third youngest to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur, defeated Justice Bosio, 18, of Australia, 2 and 1.
Now she has a chance to become the event’s fifth-youngest champion behind three 13-year-olds (Aree Wongluekiet, Lexi Thompson and Jenny Shin) and 14-year-old Inbee Park.
“Honestly, I didn't even know that I was 8 under,” said Clemente, an Ohio native who recently relocated to Florida with her family to be closer to her Naples-based instructor Spencer Graham and take advantage of year-round golf. “I wasn't thinking about that. I was just thinking about the putt that I was over or the shot that I was over.
“Obviously, it was nice that all the putts dropped today. I know it's not always going to be like that.”
Wilson, a quarterfinalist in last year’s championship and No. 87 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking®, defeated Sara Im, 17, of Duluth, Ga., 3 and 2, ending Im’s hopes of becoming the fourth female to win multiple USGA championships in the same year. Im won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball in April with fellow Georgian Thienna Huynh. In the quarterfinals, Wilson defeated Nicole Gal, 17, of Canada, 5 and 4.
A good warmup and some early mistakes by Marin gave Clemente some early confidence, and then putts started dropping. A birdie at the par-5 seventh gave her a 4-up lead, and she closed the match with three consecutive birdies, including a 10-footer on the 121-yard, par-3 13th hole.
“She played really good golf,” said Marin, who plans to sign with the University of Arkansas in November. “I didn't have the best start, and she played great, really good golf.
“At the end things didn't turn out as I wished, but it's fine.”
Wilson, playing in front of a small fan club that included the grandchildren of two-time U.S. Senior Open champion and nearby Franklin resident Kenny Perry, overcame an early 2-down deficit against Im by knocking a pitching-wedge approach to 10 feet on the par-5 seventh to set up a winning birdie and then she nearly aced the 104-yard, eighth hole with a pitching wedge to tie the match.
“For the most part I feel like I'm pretty good at changing the momentum, especially when I'm down,” said Wilson, who won this year’s Annika Invitational by holing out a wedge shot from 75 yards on the first playoff hole. “I just tried to do that today.”
With the tide starting to turn, Wilson birdied the 11th when she nearly holed her long pitch-and-run and took No. 12 with a brilliant up-and-down par from thick greenside rough for a 2-up lead. She closed out the match with a short birdie putt on the 135-yard, par-3 16th.
“Definitely it is a little disappointing,” said Im, “but I can't be too upset because Yana played so well. It was a really good match. I enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun during it. I didn't play that well, but I tried my best.”
The 36-hole championship match on Saturday will commence at 6:35 a.m. CDT, with the afternoon round scheduled for noon. Golf Channel will have live coverage beginning at 3 p.m. EDT.
by David Shefter, USGA
ABOUT THE U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur
The Girls Junior Amateur is one of 14
championships conducted by the USGA.
event is open to female golfers who have
reached their 19th birthday prior to the
of competition and whose USGA Handicap
Index does not exceed 9.4. 36 hole
play qualifying from which 64 players
to match play. Regional qualifying held at
around the United States.
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