A New Englander's Take on Golf
September 28, 2022
Naree Song (far right) with members of this year's women's golf team at Harvard (from left): Isabella Gomez, Meiyi Yan, Bridget Ma, Iris Wang, Catie Schernecker, Charissa Shang, and Yoona Kim.

There are those who pass judgement early, who object to the direction in which they see a story headed and perhaps have difficulty accepting that a bigger picture might unfold, if given time.

The vibrant story of Naree Song will remind all of us to step back, to trust in the human spirit, to allow children to grow into the adults they are intended to be.

Should you know Naree to be the identical twin sister to Aree and that their junior phenom days didn’t translate into brilliant professional careers, don’t express disappointment. Be joyful to know that these women followed happy paths and are in positions where they help shape lives.

“If my 11-year-old self was told this is how my life in golf was going to turn out, I probably never would have guessed,” laughed Naree, who is in her eighth season as the Women’s Associate Head Coach at Harvard and counts three Ivy League Championships in that time.

It is a long way from Chiang Mai, the city in northern Thailand where Injohn Song and Vanee Wongluekiet sold their hotel to bring their twin girls and their oldest brother, Chan, to the United States. It is a long way from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where Aree and Naree were nurtured into junior golf stars by David Leadbetter and his staff. And it is a long way from the roller-coaster days between 2005-2015 when the sisters, derailed by illnesses and injuries, never flourished as professionals.

Ah, but it is an even longer way from the truth to suggest this is a sad story.

“It is a good story, one that needs to be told,” said Dottie Pepper, who finished second to Karrie Webb, with Meg Mallon third in the first major of 2000, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Glitzy leaderboard, for sure, but Pepper remembers the buzz made that week over the invited 13-year-olds – Aree, who finished T-10, and Naree, who played nicely but missed the cut.

To a reporter that week, Pepper praised the twins, but was hopeful that a “well-rounded life” would be ahead because they seemed like wonderful girls. Twenty-two years later, Pepper was thrilled to hear of Naree’s success at Harvard and of Aree’s acclaimed golf school in Bangkok, testaments to the sort of well-rounded life that sometimes eludes protégés.

“It’s not always about the competition,” said Pepper. “Sometimes, the highest level you can provide a child is to afford them the chance to be true to themselves.”

The journey, said Naree, is often the focal point of discussions with young golfers and she is adamant about this: “I am not sure the word ‘regret’ captures my feelings.”

Nor should it. She and her sister achieved remarkable success – and against long odds, given the young age at which they were asked to move to a foreign land. If Injohn – a native of South Korea – saw in his daughters a remarkable talent for golf, the girls expressed their total support for all levels of competition.

“We did the best with what we had at the time,” said Naree. “In a lot of ways, you don’t have a road map.”

What was never publicized much was Injohn’s battle with cancer. “He had Stage 4 lung cancer and lived way longer than we thought he would,” said Naree, who will forever be indebted to her father for providing this chance for a better life.

“He didn’t have long to live, but we always knew school was important to him.”

Leadbetter once conceded that Injohn was a driving force, but added, “that (Aree and Naree) motivate themselves.”

Nowhere did that shine through more than when Naree decided to stop chasing professional golf. That’s when she turned to something that burns within – to learn, to help. At Rollins College, Naree earned not only a B.A. in English but an M.A. in Human Resources while also coaching the women’s golf team.

That is when Kevin Rhoads, coach of Harvard’s men’s team, first crossed paths with Naree Song. He knew of her impressive junior and amateur career and concedes that “I thought before I knew her that she’d either be a little bit jaded and out of touch, or unusually insightful and experienced.

“She is definitely the latter.”

The chance to join the coaching staff at Harvard in 2015 was pretty much a perfect match. An iconic institution of academics and a relentlessly curious woman with a huge heart.

“I enjoy learning about other things. I love to use my skills to help people,” said Naree.

Rhoads marvels at Naree Song’s odyssey and how it shaped her. “She has an unusual balance of drive, talent, humor, work ethic and desire. She also carries herself with humility and grace. For anyone to have that example to learn from is a great gift.”

As a mentor, a coach, and a confidant, Naree Song delivers to her players great depth. But she also remains wildly fascinated with this game that has been her life.

“Golf and how I love the game, from my perspective, has changed. Everyone loves golf differently. There are different touch points for different people. Some people love to compete. Some people have a passion to play. For me, I just enjoy hitting balls.”

Just saying that made her laugh, because for the huge majority of her 36 years it was play and compete, compete and play. She has gracefully moved on to another phase of her life, however, and finds immense pleasure in what she’s doing.

“It’s why I chose to coach at Harvard. I had pursued golf to the 10th degree to play for myself. I feel I got to know that world well.

“But now, I see another side. These are women who are about education first and have a drive to do other things in the world. I love that.”

I have a passion for playing golf that is surpassed only by my passion for writing about people who have a passion for playing golf, for working in golf, for living their lives around golf. Chasing the best professional golfers around the world for The Boston Globe, Golfweek Magazine, and the PGA Tour for more than 20 years was a blessing for which I’ll be eternally grateful. I’ve been left with precious memories of golf at its very best, but here is a takeaway that rates even more valuable – the game belongs to everyone who loves it. “Power Fades” is a weekly tribute with that in mind, a digital production to celebrate a game that many of us love. If you share a passion for golf, sign up down below for a free subscription and join the ride. And should you have suggestions, thoughts, critiques, or general comments, feel free to pass them along.

Cheers, Jim McCabe

Jim McCabe | September 28, 2022

Men pros: Chase for Schwab Cup

It’s the stretch run for the PGA Tour Champions, with just three tournaments remaining to try and qualifying for the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup. One New Englander, Brett Quigley, seems in good shape to make the 35-player Schwab finale, while Billy Andrade at 47th needs to hustle. Intriguing landscape in 2022 as six players have combined to win 77 percent of this year’s 21 tournaments – five with three wins apiece (Steven Alker, Steve Stricker, Jerry Kelly, Padraig Harrington, and Miguel Angel Jimenez) and lefthander Steve Flesch with two.

 

Men pros: More school time

Names you might recognize when the Korn Ferry Tour first stage of Q School is held in Gunter, Texas this week – DiMarco (as in Christian, Chris’ son) and Funk (as in Taylor, Fred’s son). A trio of New Englanders – Chris Francoeur of Amesbury, Jimmy Hervol of Hopkinson, and Nick Pandelena of Atkinson, N.H., will play this week in the Chardon, Ohio, site. Matt Organisak of Sudbury shot 70-68-70-68 to share medalist honors at a KFT first qualifier in Naperville, Ill., last week.

 

Men pros: The Old plays host

Worth tuning in for this week's Dunhill Links on the DP World Tour -- because who doesn't love seeing golf played at The Old Course. The annual pro-am always attracts some intriguing teams and this year is no example. U.S. Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick will play alongside his mother, Susan, while Rory McIlroy, per usual, will have his father Gerry as his partner. If former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg needs some witty dialogue, he can turn to his partner, Eddie Pepperell, while Alex Fitzpatrick -- Matt's younger brother -- surely could do worse than a pairing with R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers. Scott Hend draws the coolest amateur partner, Kelly Slater, although Peter Uihlein is doing OK for himself with Huey Lewis and ditto Brandon Stone, who gets Bill Murray.

1 – Captain for life

My guess is, we’re into a second generation of golf fans who think Davis Love 3d is that guy who just rode around in a cart with a walkie-talkie.


2 – Such bad form

Wearing a rope hat isn’t as unconscionable as putting ketchup on a hot dog. But it’s very close.


3 – The man needs points

Patrick Reed has requested this of all golf fans: If you know of anyone who needs to fill out a member-guest group at a tournament that awards world-ranking points, he’ll work it into his schedule.


4 – All together now, it is “All square”

You have my permission to ignore the change to match play terminology announced by the golf czars who do silly things sometime. In match play, holes are “halved” and matches are “all square.” You that, I know that.


5 – Like that took real insight

If it took five captains to decide to pair Jordan Spieth with Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele with Patrick Cantlay, Scottie Scheffler with Sam Burns, and Collin Morikawa with Cameron Young, well, we really do have a massive issue with overthinking things in this country.


6 – Like it’s the tablet’s fault

Apparently beating the living crapola out of a Microsoft tablet is the macho thing to do.


7 – Dynamic duo

Charlie Woods shoots 68 to close out a 36-hole junior tournament in Florida. Wonder if he turned to his caddie and said, “Dad, you once said, ‘Second sucks, third is even worse.’ Well, try finishing tied for fourth.”


8 – Leave ‘em be

The world rankings, by the way, are not broken. Stop telling us they are.


9 – Cut out the nonsense

Professionals need to putt everything out. Simple as that.


 

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