As a prospective college student in 2002, Naree Song received letters of interest from the golf programs at all Ivy League schools — except Harvard. The golf prodigy decided to attend the University of Florida on a full scholarship but ended up staying on for only a brief time before turning pro.
From his perspective, Harvard director of golf Fred Schernecker thinks he kind of won the long game when Song was named the head coach of women’s golf earlier this year.
“Instead of getting her for one semester before she turned pro, we’ve gotten her for eight years and counting,” he said. “It worked out.”
Legendary in the golf world, Song and her identical twin sister, Aree, were born in Thailand in 1986. Their Thai mother and South Korean father moved the family to the U.S. when the girls were 11 and already recognized junior players to ensure them greater golf opportunities.
Following an extraordinary junior career and the semester at Florida, Song joined her sister in the professional ranks in 2004, competing on the LPGA and Symetra tours.
In 2010, illness and injury prompted her to return to her education, this time at Rollins College in Florida. While earning her degree, she accepted a job as assistant golf coach at Rollins, teeing up what would be her next chapter.
“When I went to Rollins, I wasn’t entirely sure that college coaching was for me, but I thought it was a great way to learn about the profession and contribute to other people’s lives and golf games,” Song said. “My boss at the time, Julie Garner, has done so many things — she’s worked for Disney and Nike — and she came back to coach because she loved it. That really stood out to me: what it means to be passionate about what you do to that extent. It inspired me to be a coach.”
Song crossed paths professionally with Kevin Rhoads, who served as head coach of both the Crimson men’s and women’s golf teams for more than a decade, and he recruited her to join his coaching staff as an assistant in 2015. Rhoads always thought that if the stars aligned, there might be an opportunity for Song to take over the women’s team. It would be the well-deserved next step in her coaching career, and a significant moment for the team.
“It’s been terrific to see the evolution of the women’s program, but the next step was always going to be finding the right person to take over at the right time,” said Rhoads, who remains the men’s coach. “The team is in a very good place. I really felt like if Naree could be the person and this could be the time, this was the right thing to do.”
Meiyi Yan, junior captain and Quincy House resident, said it’s meaningful to have Song, as a woman and a person of color, leading the program. “We view her not only as a coach, but also as a role model and mentor,” she said. “Having her as one of the front faces for our community means a lot to the players.”
In addition to bringing a world-class golf perspective, Song is described by colleagues and team members as light-hearted, supportive, and loyal. “Naree is so unusually knowledgeable about the game, but she’s also a top-quality person with exceptional values, communication skills, and work ethic,” Rhoads said. “It is so valuable to have someone who just knows as much as she knows and can share and impart her wisdom in such a humble style.”
When Song led the Harvard women’s golf team to a season-opening draw in a scrimmage against Garner’s Rollins College squad down South on Feb. 18, it was a full-circle moment: back where her coaching career began, her first competition as Harvard’s head coach, with a sense that she’s right where she was meant to be.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be a leader of a team, especially one that I know so well, and love and respect so much,” Song said. “I’m also grateful for the opportunity to keep learning — that’s one thing that drives me as a person and as a coach. Just continuing to grow with the team is really fun for me.”