Dana Lofland Dormann was first introduced to golf by her two next-door neighbors, boys her age who took her to free clinics at a local naval base. Her hometown of Oxnard, California didn’t have a golf course when she was growing up, and though her family didn’t have privileges at the naval base, her friends would take her to the course with them. It didn’t take long for Dormann to realize that golf represented access—to friends and teammates, competition and camaraderie, and scholarships to college.
“We were in a little bit of an underprivileged area and golf was our way to upward mobility,” says Dormann, ’90 Finance. “It was our way to see more of the world and eventually pay for a college education.”
When Dormann was 10, professional golfer Nancy Lopez won nine tournaments, including five consecutive LPGA Tour events. The year was 1977, five years after the passage of Title IX, a monumental step toward securing gender equity in sport. To see Lopez rise through the ranks in the professional golf world gave Dormann hope. She grew accustomed to being one of few girls on the course, later becoming the only girl in her high school league.
“Growing up, that path hadn’t been cleared for us yet,” she says. “2017 was the 45th anniversary of Title IX. When I was getting serious about golf, it hadn’t reached its full impact. The channels for woman athletes hadn’t been opened up at that point. I think Lopez sparked a lot of girls’ interest in golf, showing them that there might be an opportunity to do a professional sport. There weren’t a lot of avenues for that back then and there still aren’t now. My dad saw that there was an opportunity for me there.”
Dormann started competing in the Junior World Championships at age 11. Every year her family would caravan to San Diego to camp out with her neighbors, making the competition feel more like a shared community event. When she was 17, she came in first, marking her transition to collegiate and, eventually, professional golf. She was offered a scholarship to train with legendary coach Mark Gale at San Jose State in 1984, joining what would become the first NCAA champion team in 1987.
The exhilarating win represented an important moment in San Jose State golf. Though each team member competed alone, their combined scores allowed them to take home the trophy. Dormann was sick through much of the Albuquerque tournament and recalls the event’s climax, when her teammate Anne Jones’ last shot on the 18th green bounced off one of the other coaches’ legs and into a favorable position, giving them the score they needed to win. The ’87 win was the first of three NCAA team championship wins that the SJSU women’s golf team claimed under the leadership of Coach Gale.
Like many promising athletes, Dormann opted to go pro before completing her degree. Her first entry into professional golf proved quite challenging. As an individual competitor playing a circuit, she learned that her score and earnings would be printed in the newspaper. Whether she scored well or performed poorly, the public knew; there was no hiding. She decided to return to SJSU to earn her degree and refocus—and in so doing, she met her husband, John Dormann, in a tennis class.
“I love being able to have an impact on young people in an area where I feel like I have the most expertise. Sport is a great equalizer.”
“Sometimes what you think is really the worst thing, ends up being the best,” she says. “There are lots of times where you find that in golf. Maybe I needed to go and learn this other part of it before I was ready to move on to the next step.”
Dana and John were married the weekend after she graduated from San Jose State. They spent their honeymoon playing on the European golf tour. By summer 1990, Dormann had finished third in the British Open and qualified for the LPGA Tour. She went on to play full time on the tour for 10 years, while John caddied for another player. The couple traveled to tournaments together and even started their family while she competed, thanks in part to daycare sponsored by Smuckers and provided by the tour.
“I am so grateful that the tour offered daycare,” she says. “It allowed us to start a family because we knew we were going to have care. Otherwise it was going to be a choice. Decide between being a professional athlete and caring for our son. So, I’m very, very fortunate that it worked out that way.”
She is quick to acknowledge how rare it is for professional woman athletes to have the ability to juggle having a family, training and competing, and touring with a spouse. John joined the golf coaching staff at SJSU in 1998, and was promoted to head coach in 2005, the same year that Dana became assistant coach of the women’s team. In many ways, 10-year-old Dana was right: Golf offered opportunities that she couldn’t have found elsewhere.
“I am so incredibly grateful for Title IX,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine life without it. I wouldn’t be able to have the impact that I’ve had. I love being able to have an impact on young people in an area where I feel like I have the most expertise. Sport is a great equalizer.”
Now associate head coach of SJSU’s women’s golf team, Dana Dormann has returned to the professional circuit as a member of the Legends Tour, which features more than 120 LPGA tour members over 45 and has raised more than $18 million for charity. She says that she is in good company and is proud to represent a trailblazing generation of athletes from SJSU.
“I finished eighth in our Legends Tour Championships in 2016,” she says. “A few of us Spartans played in the last Legends tour event. I’m proud of that. Juli Inkster won the 2016 tour championship. She’s an inspiration to me, and I’d imagine to most of our Spartan alumni. She and Patty Sheehan were our leaders and our inspiration for playing golf at San Jose State. I am a Spartan through and through.”
Continue the SJSU Legacy
Join SJSU’s Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change on March 14 for Words to Action: Gender, Sport and Society. Learn more and get tickets.