Howland native winning world titles

Special to Tribune Chronicle Gianna Clemente poses with one of her many trophies won over the years. The 10-year-old Howland native is one of the best junior golfers in the world.

It’s almost becoming routine for Gianna Clemente.

The Howland native, a golf prodigy of sorts, won her second world championship in the past three years in early July. Clemente, 10, won the 9-and 10-year-old division at the IMG Academy Junior World Championships in El Cajon, California, on July 12.

The daughter of Pat and Julie Clemente, Gianna finished with a 3-under 213, carding rounds of 69, 72 and 72. She edged Arianna Lau of Hong Kong by one stroke for the title.

“It was a wire-to-wire win,” said Pat, a Hubbard High School graduate who played golf at Youngstown State. “After the first round, she was tied for the lead, and the same for the second, so I think that probably added to the pressure. You’ve got to sleep on it every night.

“Toward the end, in the final round, she started by birdying the first three holes,” he added. “She was really in the driver’s seat. She struggled a little bit on the back nine and kind of had to hang on.”

Gianna Clemente poses the scorecard of the tournament she recently won in North Carolina. She shot 67-63–130 to take first in the 10-year-old division.

It was business as usual for Gianna.

She has now won a miraculous 105 events since she started playing in tournaments at the age of 5. She is able to play year-round as the Clementes head to Florida for the winter, and Gianna plays in a tour in the Sunshine State.

The work pays off. She won a similar world title when she was 7 at the Pinehurst Golf Resort in North Carolina, an event she and the family went to recently.

“There’s two world championships, and that’s the other one,” Pat said. “There’s one at Pinehurst, which is huge on the east coast. This is originally what used to be called the Callaway world championships, which was made famous when Tiger Woods won a bunch of events as a kid. Now it’s bought by a company called IMG, so that’s why the name has changed.

“The unique thing is that because it’s on the west coast, you get all the international players that come here versus the east coast, so the field’s actually stronger.”

Once again, Gianna won this 10-year-old division in North Carolina — shooting 67-63-130.

It didn’t matter to Gianna — the only American female to win her division.

The youngster actually has a swing coach and a short-game coach, Pat said. That paid dividends throughout the tournament. She’s also “gotten so much stronger over the last several months,” according to Pat, so she’s outdriving most of the field.

She’s played so well against girls her age, Pat said they’ve had Gianna move up in age groups on numerous occasions.

“This summer she played in several events in the 14-to-18 year old level,” he said. “I think whether you’re winning or losing those, she’s playing longer yardage — she’s playing yardages that the girls play in college. The scores are different, but that’s advanced her 10 times over.”

The increase in competition has boosted her confidence as well.

Pat said she has a “dominate” mentality at every tournament. After taking fifth in the same world championship last year, she came into this year’s event with a winning attitude.

“There’s a different aspect in any sport when you’re out there and you’re supposed to win,” he said. “There’s a different kind of pressure. If you think you’re the best, or one of the best, and the expectation is to win and you still step up and do it, it’s a little different than being the underdog and no one knows who you are.”

It may sound like a lot of golf and a lot of pressure for a 10-year-old, but Pat makes sure she remains a 10-year-old.

As serious as Gianna takes the tournaments, she certainly enjoys her downtime as well.

“I’m standing on the beach, and she’s taking an off day with four other kids, two from Arizona and one from Texas right now that she played with yesterday,” Pat said. “Again, she’d play an event every weekend if I let her, and she’s so focused on winning and advancing, but the travels that we’ve been lucky enough to make, to travel around the country and play junior golf, now her best friends are junior golfers.

“We’ve met great families and great people,” he added. “This is the highlight as a parent. It’s great that she wins, but she has some of her best friends living in Florida, Texas, California, Arizona. … That’s where you keep it fun.”