Losing a program-altering golfer like Lloyd Jefferson Go would be a tough blow for any golf team. But, thanks to junior Gen Nagai, Seton Hall is handling it well.
The Pirates have only played in two tournaments this 2017-2018 season, but Nagai has already earned a Big East Golfer of the Week Award. His 4-under-par, 71-69-72-212 performance at the Hartford Hawks Invitational on Sept. 18-19 was the sixth best out of 116 individual golfers.
“It’s pretty cool,” Nagai said. “Any time there’s an achievement like that, I’m happy about it. I did play pretty well.”
The performance in Hartford was the second top-20 finish for Nagai on the year and his third in a row dating back to his second place finish at the 2017 Big East Championship in the spring.
As a team, the Pirates finished in fourth place at the Alex Lagowitz Memorial on Sept. 9-10 and in second at the Hartford Hawks Invitational, thanks in large part to strong performances by Nagai.
Head coach Clay White has seen improvements in Nagai’s play since he first arrived at Seton Hall in 2015, noting that both Nagai and Chris Yeom have made tremendous strides in their collegiate careers.
“If you look at Gen’s start, and even Chris, they had a rough freshman year,” White said. “They put in a ton of work. We built a new golf room; they were in that golf room whenever they weren’t in class or in practice.”
Nagai himself agrees and believes that Seton Hall has put him in a great position to take his game to the next level.
“It’s definitely improved [my game], big time,” Nagai said. “I really feel like it’s cause our whole program and even our coach really gives us the opportunity to do so. We get to work on what we feel we need to work on.”
With strong performances and constant improvement, it is no surprise that comparisons are already being drawn between Go and Nagai. The two were childhood friends, meeting for the first time when Nagai was just four years old. He traveled to tournaments with Go’s family, and Go served as a major factor in Nagai’s decision to play at Seton Hall.
But while his close friend had tremendous success in his career as a Pirate, Nagai does not feel pressured to follow in his footsteps.
“In my opinion, it’s not really pressure but more of like motivation,” Nagai said. “Him being as good as he is now is definitely motivating me and I want to push myself harder to be as good or even beat him. It’s just something that excites me. I know he is a little older so I just need to give myself more time to accomplish the things that he’s done.”
White knows that Nagai is driven by Go’s success, but he does not want Nagai – or the rest of the team – to try to fill the void Go left behind.
“As a coach, I’m trying to tell guys that we’re not going to fill Lloyd’s position,” White said. “We’re going to make everybody one or two shots better, or a half a shot better.” “We’re going to use five guys, six guys, seven guys to fill that void.”
The future for Seton Hall’s golf program is bright despite the loss of one of the best in program history. And while Go moves on, Nagai is still looking for ways to improve his game – and the performances of others.
“I want to be able to help the younger guys on our team, the freshmen and the sophomores,” Nagai said. “When I was a freshman I got help from Lloyd and the other seniors on the team, and if I could help the other guys improve quicker than I did, I feel like that would make our team a lot better.”
Nagai has two more years at Seton Hall and he is determined to make this program as strong as it has ever been before he graduates.
Matt Lapolla can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MatthewLapolla.