SYLVANIA, Ohio – Lexi Thompson signed a glove for Gianna Clemente not far from where the 14-year-old stood on the first tee at Highland Meadows Golf Club on Tuesday giving an interview. From ages 5 to 10, Clemente and her family made the three-hour trek from Warren, Ohio, to Sylvania to watch what’s now known as the Dana Open.
“A lot of people still think I have the attitude of Lexi,”said Clemente, “really feisty, really serious at times. I literally wanted to watch Lexi for 18 holes, that was me as a kid.”
Clemente, a high school freshman who was runner-up at the 2022 U.S. Girls’ Junior, played in her first LPGA Monday Qualifier last week in Canada and earned a spot in the CP Women’s Open field for her first LPGA start. Incredibly, she Monday-qualified again for this week’s Dana Open, bouncing back from a late double with two birdies to shoot 3-under 69 and win the qualifier.
“I saw Lexi in the locker room in Canada,” said Clemente, “and I was just way too scared to go up and say hi.”
She played a practice round with Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion Anna Davis and Cristie Kerr and hit balls next to World No. 1 Jin Young Ko. (“I was like oh, oh my goodness.”) Clemente shot 69-74 to miss the cut in Ottawa.
“Just seeing everybody inside the ropes, Nelly and Lexi, all the big names you see on TV,” she said. “To be inside the ropes and playing, that was surreal.”
Mostly though, Clemente seems relatively at ease in the professional environment. Certainly when it comes to the media.
“I’ve always loved the cameras and attention,” she said.
Gianna Clemente, the 14-year-old who has Monday-qualified for the last two LPGA events, is teeing it up this week at Highland Meadows, where she came as a fan from ages 5 to 10. pic.twitter.com/ZxqhS5pjTi
— Beth Ann Nichols (@GolfweekNichols) August 30, 2022
Clemente was given an exemption to compete in the Monday qualifier for next week’s new Kroger Queen City Championship in Cincinnati, as well. Amateurs must apply for an exemption to participate in LPGA local qualifiers.
Patrick Clemente, a former collegiate player at Youngstown State, gave his daughter her first set of plastic clubs when she was 18 months old. She played in her first tournament at age 5. The Clementes live on a golf course, Avalon Lakes, in Warren.
“At about 9, 10 as crazy as that sounds,” said Patrick, “you could see this is what she wanted to do.”
Gianna has done online schooling since the fourth grade, and at age 11, she became the third-youngest player to qualify for the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Old Waverly. Only Lucy Li (10 years, 10 months, 4 days) and Latanna Stone (10 years, 11 months and 2 days) were younger.
Patrick, VP of sales for a manufacturing company, is on the bag most weeks. Both father and daughter typically have homework left to do once they leave the course.
“We’re seeing a little bit of overdue marks on my assignments right now,” said Gianna. “It’s OK. I’m going to do it later when I get back to the hotel.”
Next month, Gianna heads to the Amundi Evian Juniors Cup in France. She’ll also try to defend her title at AJGA’s Ping Invitational at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
As for turning professional early, Gianna said she can’t yet talk to college coaches but isn’t ruling anything out.
“For now, I do want to go to college,” she said. “But we’ll see what happens. I still have a lot of time.”