Before Gen Nagai and Chris Yeom set foot on Seton Hall’s campus, the duo’s fate was almost forever changed.
The two were slated to room together freshman year, but a housing mix up nearly kept that from happening. That was when Seton Hall men’s golf coach, Clay White, stepped in. He was set on having the two room together. He’s big on making sure his players are comfortable.
“I try to pay more attention to the players, White said. “Not just if they’re practicing enough or going to the gym enough, but if they’re comfortable and if they feel comfortable with their environment. They’ll really explode if they feel comfortable.”
Comfort doesn’t always come quickly, though, especially since Nagai and Yeom are from nearly opposite ends of the world and entirely different cultures.
“We knew nothing about each other before coming to Seton Hall,” Nagai said of his New York-born teammate. “His name. That’s it.”
Nagai is from the Philippines, so communication prior to their move to New Jersey was not easy.
“Before college we sent a couple emails to each other,” Yeom said.
White, meanwhile, worked behind the scenes and ensured his two new freshmen would be taking on their college experience together as roommates. He hoped that their time together would enhance their comfort at SHU.
“After that got all set up, we spent almost 24/7, basically 24/7 [together], basically every single day and even now I still don’t mind. I actually like it,” Yeom said.
“It kind of worked out because Coach talked to everyone and sort of worked out with us being roommates,” Nagai said. “It just happened from there, and even this year we live off campus but we’re still roommates. I’ve gotten close to him and I think we go pretty well together.”
White knew that beyond just helping the duo get along, Yeom and Nagai living together would make them more comfortable transitioning to collegiate golf.
As Yeom and Nagai became more accustomed to life at the University, they quickly learned more about each other.
“[The difference between us] was a good thing,” Yeom said. “I feel like I was able to learn about his culture, but we also have a lot of similarities. One, we’re both Asian, so right then and there the food and stuff like that, but most importantly I thought it was the personalities. I feel like we fit well with each other, so it didn’t really matter if he was international or if he lived here.”
The pair found comfort in the unfamiliar and showed improvement through the trials and challenges of their first semester.
“They both started off kinda slow in the fall,” White said. “Gen coming in for the first time to the United States. Chris didn’t play great at the start. And as they got more comfortable with the program and with the other guys they started realizing that they could compete. They both played a lot better in the spring.”
Naturally, many of their struggles came on the green or in the practice facilities. Others, however, were cultural, especially for Nagai. He remembers one moment where his adjustment to the U.S. was particularly apparent.
“Seeing snow for the first time was pretty cool,” Nagai recalled. “He [Yeom] videotaped it for me and he was just laughing about my reaction of snow falling and it was pretty cool.”
The two have since blossomed as golfers and leaders with the Pirates. Their competitive nature has brought out the best in each other.
“If he’s playing well I’m really happy for him,” Nagai said. “I mean obviously there’s a bit of a thing where you want to beat him, but if you don’t and he plays well it’s good for the team and good for everyone. I feel like we also have very similar scoring averages overall so it’s a good comparison.”
While the competition between the pair betters them on the golf course, it also runs deep in their other athletic pursuit: ping-pong.
“In our house we have a ping-pong table and I’m not that good but Gen’s really good,” Yeom said. “Especially last year since I’m okay, I’m average, but they’re really good, so I had no competition.”
“The ping-pong side is not as competitive as our golf,” Nagai joked. “But he’s getting better, no doubt.”
Even their ping-pong battles have contributed to their development. Much like the growth and comfort of their friendship, Yeom and Nagai’s improved comfort on the green comes from the small, fun interactions that have strengthened their bond.
“Gen and Chris have a really great relationship so it’s neat to see kids come in and develop such a strong relationship,” White said.
Kyle Kasharian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ItsKyleKash.