San Jose State women’s golf coach Dana Dormann stood on a hill overlooking the 18th green at Cordevalle following No. 1 Stanford’s 5-1 victory Thursday over her eighth-ranked Spartans in their Battle of the Bay match play event as both squads congratulated each other.
The match, which came together as a friendly get-together between two schools located 20 miles from each other back in December, took on more intrigue after the Spartans won the Lamkin Invitational
in San Diego last week by three shots over the mighty Cardinal, which was looking for its fifth straight win on the season.
In the glistening setting sun’s reflection off the greenside lake of Cordevalle’s 18th hole, Dormann noticed a likeness to the Golden Era of Spartan women’s golf from the early 1980s to the mid-90s, when San Jose State was one of the elite programs in the nation.
“There’s no kink in their armor,” Dormann said of the Stanford team, “they’re just super solid all-around games. It’s fun to play with them.”
The Spartan’s dominance of yesteryear was fueled by megawatt star power from the likes of Patty Sheehan ’80, Juli Inkster ’82, Dina Ammaccapane ’90, Pat Hurst ’91, Tracy Hanson ’93, Janice Moody ‘93 and Dormann herself. The Spartan seven combined for over 100 professional wins, including 14 major titles and made multiple Solheim Cup appearances.
While Stanford can boast 2003 U.S. Women’s Open champion Hilary Lunke, the Cardinal has only established itself as a consistent national power since Anne Walker took over the program in 2012. Stanford won its first national championship in Walker's third season and has finished in the top-five at nationals in each of the last six seasons.
Mariah Stackhouse, Casey Danielson and Lauren Kim set the stage for the arrival of current Stanford stars Rachel Heck, Rose Zhang, Angelina Lee and Aline Krauter. Megha Ganne, the low amateur at the 2021 U.S. Women's Open and last year's AJGA Player of the Year, arrives on the Farm next fall.
"We were literally talking about this last night," Heck said, "she has a sixth sense when it comes to recruiting, when it comes to people. It [Stanford’s rise] didn’t happen by accident.”
The two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year explained that she focuses on what is associated with the Stanford brand in her recruiting process. It's a global icon of education that attracts the best of the best who strive to become their ideal selves in anything they do, from academia to their daily values. In turn, Walker gives her players the freedom to work on what they need to work on, knowing that one size fits all doesn't apply with such talent. It's an approach that works to attract and retain the best talent.
Retaining players is a crucial part of the Cardinal's success. Walker recruits against peer programs and the potential for such talented players to turn pro instead of attending college.
“I always stress to them that golf is a really fun sport,” Walker said, “and a really lonely sport, and this is one moment in time where you don’t have to be lonely. In fact, it can be the complete opposite. We lean into that and embrace that opportunity. When you see the likes of a Rose Zhang, a Rachel Heck, and Aline Krauter choosing college golf, they're intuitive women. They're smart women. They know their life on the LPGA, if they’re so fortunate, will be lonely.
“But in this moment, they can enjoy each other and grow.”
The bonds the Cardinal build on and off the course let them enjoy their time on campus. Whenever the team plays, they try to play together, even amidst the challenges of coordinating schedules. They have team meetings to ensure they're growing into the best teammates, players, and people they can be. The players will grab coffee and study together and meet with both Walker and assistant Maddie Sheils individually to stay connected.
It helps them organically create memories like Zhang and Heck's handshake they developed at the Curtis Cup. The top two female amateurs in the world high five, then high five the back of their hands, then touch elbows and slap their butts before the start of their round. They were loose enough Thursday ahead of the opening round that Zhang then applied some lavender to Heck’s nose, which they pondered mid-interview if they should add to the routine, as their chemistry helped them win their matches 3 and 1 and 3 and 2, respectively.
“Every team dynamic is one of the key elements to make a great team,” Zhang said, “It doesn’t matter how great players are, especially with everyone being so highly ranked on their own, junior golf and maybe in their own countries.”
Senior Natasha Andrea Oon, the only Spartan to win a point Thursday in a 4 & 3 victory over Brook Seay, thinks San Jose State’s win at the Lamkin could vault the program back into the national spotlight it enjoyed years ago.
“I think the win does seal the belief,” Oon said, “but it's not like the belief wasn't there before. Everyone is so good, and everyone was playing so well, it was bound to happen.
"I just have a feeling inside that we’re going to do so many more things.”
The belief in accomplishing more stems from the group's work ethic. The Spartans come in on the weekends, on top of their scheduled weekly practices where Dormann provides the structure with challenge-type competitions, for three to four hours to work on what they need. The team utilizes Gameforge, their internal stats program, to determine what they individually need to work on, from tee shots to specific length putts.
Oon views the team as the hardest working of her San Jose State career, as they apply the most important lesson Dormann teaches the team from her playing NCAA championship days of always learning.
“They know the history of our program and know it's [winning a national title] been done at San Jose State,” Dormann said, “and it can be done again.”
Despite falling short in their quest to topple Stanford in a match play format, the Spartans, now ranked eighth in the nation in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin poll, still radiated plenty of confidence Thursday at Cordevalle. Oon couldn’t hide her excitement for the Spartans' future under the tutelage of the current coaching staff.
“It’s great to see what’s going to happen in the next few months and years,” Oon said, "Coach Dana and Coach Kortnie [Maxoutopoulis Barrett] really deserve it. They built the team from the ground up.”
Can San Jose State reach the top of the mountain again is anybody’s guess but they still have two more national championships than Stanford, at least for now.
Rose Zhang def. Antonia Malate
3 & 1
Rachel Heck def. Jordyn Parr
3 & 2
def. Kajsa Arwefjall
5 & 4
Aline Krauter def. Louisa Carlbom
5 & 4
Natasha Andrea Oon def. Brooke Seay
4 & 3
def. Lucia Lopez Ortega 1 up