Gianna Clemente 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. Spectators are encouraged to attend, and admission is free.
“Yeah, it's kind of always in the back of my mind. Obviously, you want all of those [exemptions], but it's 36 holes tomorrow. That's so much golf and so much can happen. I'm just going to try and stay in the moment and not get ahead of myself because if I get ahead of myself, I’ll start thinking way too much, and it just never goes right when you do that.” – Gianna Clemente on her mindset for the 36-hole championship match
“It was fun. I learned a lot from him and he's a great guy.” – Yana Wilson on meeting Kenny Perry
“I'm very excited to see how it goes because I know Gianna is very strong. She's a very strong player, and she keeps her momentum going all the time. She doesn't really break down much. I feel like I'm the same way.” – Wilson on facing Clemente
“Obviously, we're both really competitive. She's an amazing player, very proven player. I'm looking forward to playing [against] her.” – Clemente on facing Wilson
“Just making it to the match play, making it to the semifinals, says a lot about my game, that I'm playing really good, and yeah, I can do … some things better. But just keep doing what I'm doing. I never imagined that I would be in the semifinals for this tournament. Last year I got eliminated in the first round of match play, and this year the objective was to make it to at least 32. I never dreamed of this moment, but I'm totally grateful for the opportunity.” – semifinalist Maria Jose Marin summing up her week
“Oh, definitely confidence. Just being able to play against all these great golfers, it really means a lot to me.” – Sara Im on what she takes away from her semifinal run
“I think it's probably one of my favorite courses I've ever played. Obviously, I have good memories, but still, even on the days where I wasn't playing well, I was just in awe of every hole. Every hole is different, and it challenges you because you have to be a little strategic sometimes. But I love courses like that, and it was in amazing shape. It was … phenomenal.” – quarterfinalist Nicole Gal on The Club at Olde Stone
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.