Young Clemente wins in Florida

Special to Tribune Chronicle Howland native Gianna Clemente, 9, won the Honda Junior Classic earlier in January.

WARREN — Fans watching the PGA Honda Classic this year might see a familiar face.

No, not Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson or Ricky Fowler. Not even Tiger Woods.

Sure, those players might be a part of the event, but that’s not the person Mahoning Valley natives should notice. It’s a 9-year-old girl named Gianna Clemente.

The daughter of Pat and Julie Clemente, Gianna, from Howland, will be honored at the Honda Classic after she won the junior version of the tournament in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Gianna, who won a world championship at the age of 7, competed in the 10-and-11-year-old division and won by one stroke over Avery Zweig, the top-ranked 10-year-old in the country. Maybe even more impressive is that while Gianna, who shot even par, edged Zweig, she finished 15 strokes better than the rest of the field.

“It was a great win for her, and she played up (an age group),” said Pat Clemente, a Hubbard High School graduate who played golf at Youngstown State University. “She’s still 9. She played up in the 10-and-11-year-old division, which is pretty common for her. She mostly plays up, just to play against older kids and longer yardages. It helps her development.”

Maybe the best part is Gianna being part of the PGA Honda Classic, which takes place Feb. 22-25 in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

“They take all the winners for each age division for the Honda Junior because the two tournaments are associated,” Pat said, “and they honor them on the 18th green with the winner of the PGA Honda event. Last year it was Ricky Fowler.”

The success is nothing new to Gianna.

She won the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship in 2015 by eight strokes and is now one of the nation’s best youth players in her age group. The Clementes are currently residing in Florida, partly because Pat’s job requires him to travel near the East Coast at times, and also so Gianna can continue playing golf in the winter months.

Since they arrived in Naples, Fla., in late October, Gianna has won four tournaments. While it’s a lot of golf for a 9-year-old, Pat said Gianna is enjoying every second of it.

“The one thing that’s very consistent with her, more than just her golf game, is her drive,” said Pat, whose brother, Collin, starred as a John F. Kennedy golfer before attending the University of Akron. “She’s a 9-year-old girl, but during this past week, even after she won the Honda, I think twice she woke me up at 6:30 in the morning to go out to the driving range.

“She’s very driven, and she’s extremely competitive — almost to a fault right now,” Pat added. “She hasn’t quite figured out how to use that to her benefit. She literally wants to win every time she’s out there. That can be a detriment at times. She has to learn how to control that a little bit, but she’ll learn that. She’s 9. I’d rather have her that way than the other way, her not caring.”

Clemente will play three more tournaments in February as she continues to compete in the Hurricane Junior Tour. The world championships don’t take place until this summer.