Gianna Clemente (AJGA photo)
Gianna Clemente successfully defended her title, while Jay Leng Jr. won his first AJGA Invitational at the 16th PING Invitational at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.
The tournament field was loaded with talent. Of the 72 players in the field, there were 52 AJGA champions, including four 2022 Invitational winners. Additionally, there were 39 college commits and 21 Rolex Junior All-Americans. Players hailed from 21 states and eight international countries.
Clemente made history last year by becoming the youngest champion in PING Invitational history. With this win, Clemente joined Rose Zhang and Jordan Spieth as the only players to win twice at this Invitational.
Clemente was the only player to shoot even par or better in all three rounds. She was three strokes back after an opening round of even-par 72. Clemente jumped to the top of the leaderboard after a 4-under-par 68 in the second round. Her 36-hole total of 4-under-par 140 was good enough for a two-shot lead heading into the final round.
The 14-year-old started with three straight bogies in her final round. She turned her luck around after a birdie on the par 4 sixth hole. After a par on No. 10, Clemente made back-to-back birdies on Nos. 11 and 12. She dropped another shot on No. 13. Clemente bounced back with a birdie on the par-3 No. 15 and had a picture-perfect finish with a birdie on the par-5 No. 18. Her final tournament total was a 5-under-par 211, seven-shots clear of the runner-ups.
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Thanana Kotchasanmanee of Rome, Georgia, birdied No. 18 to finish tied for second at 2-over-par 218. This was Kotchasanmanee's third runner-up finish the year. Vanessa Zhang of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, made two birdies during her final round to also finish tied for second. Zhang is ranked No. 22 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.
Alice Ziyi Zhao of Irvine, California, jumped up nine leaderboard spots after a low round of 4-under-par 68. Her tournament score of 3-over-par 219 put her tied for fourth. Zhao won two AJGA tournaments this year and is ranked No. 17 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.
Macy Pate of Winston Salem, North Carolina, followed up her second-round score of even-par 72 with another even-par 72 to also tie for fourth. Her final round was highlighted by an eagle on the par-4 No. 17. Pate is a Wake Forest University commit and ranked No. 14 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings. Megan Meng of Pennington, New Jersey, birdied No. 18 to round out the three-way tie for fourth. Meng has two AJGA wins this year and is ranked No. 30 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.
Jay Leng, Jr. (AJGA photo)
Jay Leng Jr. fought back a slow final-round start to win his first AJGA Invitational. After shooting a low round of 3-under-par 69 in the first round, Leng Jr maintained his lead in the second round at 2-over-par 74. His 36-hole total of 1-under-par 143 gave him a two-shot lead heading into the final round.
Leng Jr. birdied the par-3 No. 3, but found trouble when he made a triple-bogey on the par-4 No. 4. He made another birdie on No. 9 to make the turn with a 1-over-par 37. Gerardo Gomez of Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida, was catching up to Leng Jr, making the turn with a 2-under-par 34.
Leng Jr. dropped two more shots on No. 13 after a double bogey while Gomez made birdies on Nos. 12 and 14. Gomez had a four-shot lead heading into No. 17, but after his approach shot found the water, his lead was cut to one. Leng Jr saw an opportunity and birdied Nos. 17 and 18 to force a playoff against Gomez.
The first three holes of the sudden-death playoff were played on No. 18. Both players were able to make par each time. The fourth playoff hole was moved to the par-4 No. 17 where Leng Jr escaped with a par and a win.
This was Leng Jr's second AJGA win. His first came earlier this year at the UHY St. Louis Junior. The Stanford commit is currently ranked No. 25 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.
Gomez finished in solo second after a low final-round score of 1-under-par 71. He was the last player to get added to the field, initially scheduled to play at the Billy Horschel Junior Championship presented by Zurich. Gomez got the call he had a spot, and then traveled to Oklahoma to compete at The PING Invitational in his fifth-career AJGA tournament. Gomez is committed to the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and No. 48 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.
Nicholas Prieto tied for third after a three-day total of 4-over-par 220. He finished third at the 2022 Jack Burke Jr. Invitational and is committed to the University of South Florida. Ryder Cowan of Edmond, Oklahoma, jumped up five spots on the leaderboard after making a 1-under-par 71 in the final round. He is currently ranked No. 34 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings and committed to the University of Oklahoma.
Carson Kim of Yorba Linda, California, finished in fifth at 5-over-par 221 alongside Ethan Gao of Alpharetta, Georgia. Kim is currently ranked No. 7 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings and committed to the University of Southern California. Gao is ranked No. 5 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings, a two-time Rolex Junior All-American and committed to Stanford University.