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Inside the resurgence of San Jose State
20 May 2022
by Golfweek

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Courtesy of San Jose State
Courtesy of San Jose State

It’s been 30 years since a non-Power Five school won the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship. That was San Jose State in 1992, and it was the Spartans’ third title in a five-year span.

Only one mid-major school even qualified for this year’s championship, and that school happens to No. 6-ranked San Jose State, one of the hottest teams in golf.

“We’ve gone this far,” said senior Natasha Andrea Oon. “Why can’t we go ahead and finish it?”

San Jose State boasts an incredible 124-8-1 record this season. The Spartans have lost to only one team this spring: Texas Tech at the Mountain View Collegiate. They’ve won five titles since February, including the Mountain West Championship and NCAA’s Ann Arbor Regional, toppling top-ranked Stanford several times in the process.

Spartan coaches downplay any idea of a rivalry between the two Bay Area schools, calling it friendly.

“We look at playing with Stanford a bunch as seeing what they’re doing right,” said head coach Dana Dormann, “and some of it rubbed off on us.”

It’s been 30 years since a non-Power Five school won the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship. That was San Jose State in 1992, and it was the Spartans’ third title in a five-year span.

Only one mid-major school even qualified for this year’s championship, and that school happens to No. 6-ranked San Jose State, one of the hottest teams in golf.

“We’ve gone this far,” said senior Natasha Andrea Oon. “Why can’t we go ahead and finish it?”

San Jose State boasts an incredible 124-8-1 record this season. The Spartans have lost to only one team this spring: Texas Tech at the Mountain View Collegiate. They’ve won five titles since February, including the Mountain West Championship and NCAA’s Ann Arbor Regional, toppling top-ranked Stanford several times in the process.

Spartan coaches downplay any idea of a rivalry between the two Bay Area schools, calling it friendly.

“We look at playing with Stanford a bunch as seeing what they’re doing right,” said head coach Dana Dormann, “and some of it rubbed off on us.”

The Spartans bring the same lineup to Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, that they had the previous seven events: Lucia Lopez Ortega, Antonia Malate, Kajsa Arwefjäll, Louisa Carlbom and Oon. This crew hasn’t finished outside the top two at a tournament since October.

The first of four stroke-play rounds begins on Friday. The field will be cut to the top eight teams for match play. Since the championship changed formats in 2015, San Jose State has yet to qualify for match play.

Dormann (formerly Lofland) was on the 1987 team that brought home San Jose State’s first NCAA title. She played for 10 years on the LPGA, winning twice, and was associate coach at her alma mater, working alongside her husband John, for more than a dozen years before becoming head coach in 2018.

The Spartans’ legacy runs deep, with major champions Patty Sheehan, Juli Inkster and Pat Hurst as alumni. During the 1991-92 campaign, San Jose State won a staggering nine of 10 starts. And the next year two years, they collected seven titles.

When Dormann was in school, players used to take their shag bags to the practice football field and hit through the goal posts. Current day Spartans grind on a 100,000 square foot tee with Tifway Bermuda grass. They have over 55,000 square feet of turf in the short game area at the Spartan Golf Complex and over 17,000 square feet of bentgrass greens.

“It’s like night and day,” said Dormann.

Hurst worked as Dormann’s assistant until she was named U.S. Solheim Cup captain. Kortnie Barrett joined the staff in January 2021. It was Dormann who actually got Barrett started in the game when she was a 10-year-old attending a LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program in Pleasanton, California, run by Dormann.

“She’s the one that encouraged me to keep going,” said Barrett, keep pursuing.”

Barrett looked at the talent on the team and wondered if self-belief was the missing piece.

She started off by planting a seed of dominance in the fall. Don’t just win, she told them, win by 20. It might have sounded like a stretch to a team that didn’t qualify for nationals last year.

“We’re careful how we use that,” she said. “Not to beat up on other teams. If we’re performing at our best and peaking at our best, that’s dominating the day.”

While on the beach last fall in Monterey, the question was posed: Where do you see this season ending?

“At that point it was a stretch to say it,” said Barrett, “but they said ‘We see ourselves sunburnt, sweaty and in the final match of the national championship.’ ”

They wrote it down.

After the Spartans led going into the final round and finished second several times last fall, Barrett declared the spring “speech season.”

The idea extended to practice. Win a drill, give a speech.

Barrett remembers watching a player at a previous school she coached at nearly lose a conference title because she was so worried about the victory speech over her last few holes.

The speech practice proved both practical and uplifting.

“We found that a victory speech is really just a speech of gratitude,” said Barrett.

And as those speeches moved from practice sessions to tournament podiums, San Jose coaches were grateful to see their players maintain a humble approach.

USC coach Justin Silverstein admires the discipline of Dormann’s team. The blue-collar way they go about their business, following the game plan coaches have laid out. That’s what he sees from the outside looking in.

“That team is good as anybody,” said Silverstein. “If they win next week … it wouldn’t surprise me one bit.”


San Jose State has won five titles since February
This year’s team already has set a school record for most rounds of par or better in a single season. Oon is the only player in school history to have a scoring average below 71, and she currently sits at 70.63.

Oon received her bachelor’s degree in business administration last December and is currently in graduate school, working toward her master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis on data analytics. She has a 15-page paper that’s due during NCAAs as the Spartans will be in the midst of final exams at Grayhawk.

Oon comes into the NCAAs on the heels of victories at Mountain West Championship and NCAA regionals. Hurst is the only State player to ever win an NCAA individual title.

Oon came into this season unsure what would happen after missing last year with a left foot injury that’s still a bit of a mystery. She said the time away from the game grounded her as she was getting too far ahead of herself.

“I didn’t even know if a comeback was going to happen,” she said.

Comebacks run deep this year.

The Spartans finished runner-up at NCAAs in 1997 for a third consecutive year, and since then, have only qualified for the championship seven times.

Now, they’re among the favorites for the first time this century, and Oon is a finalist for the ANNIKA Award, given annually to the national player of the year.

The Spartans have a rule: No formal practice on the weekends. Barrett said they talk a lot as a team about balance. They’re a self-motivated bunch, and Dormann admits she has changed her mindset a bit from old-school disciplinarian to a more collaborative and empowering approach.

Oon praised her coaches for putting players in a healthy state of mind.

“You can always look at them on the first tee and look at how proud they are of us and what we’ve done,” said Oon.

Barrett looks at the natural hierarchy that exists between the Power 5 and mid-major program and wants to flip it on its head.

“We know the history of San Jose State,” she said. “Why not now?”

by Beth Ann Nichols, Golfweek

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