Aug 30, 2013
- Read the latest issue of Hawk Talk Monthly
- Download your Iowa Hawkeye iPad/iPhone app!
- Download your Iowa Hawkeye Android app!
- Big Ten Network: Free Hawkeye Video
- 24 Hawkeyes to Watch
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Teaching was the root of Diane Thomason’s 27-year University of Iowa women’s golf coaching career, and she parlayed that into the National Iowa Varsity Club Athletics Hall of Fame.
Thomason is one of six individuals that will be inducted on Aug. 30 along with Sam Bailie (men’s gymnastics), Craig Clemons (football), Brad Banks (football), Jennifer Brower-McNutt (track and field/cross country), and Franthea Price (women’s basketball).
“I’m humbled by this because I know there are a lot of other great people in this class,” said Thomason. “I share this with all my former players and coaches. They helped it be what it is.”
Thomason grew up around the game of golf in Waverly, Iowa. As an 8-year-old, she and her cousin would “chop it around the course” and call it a day. After high school, Thomason enrolled at Iowa State University, but at the time, sports weren’t sponsored for women. When a swimming and diving team was formed, Thomason jumped at the opportunity to be involved.
“I said I was going to join the team since I had coached age-group swimming when I was in high school,” said Thomason. “I was probably out for the swim team for a week and a half and they decided they were going to start a women’s golf team.
“At the heart of it, I am and always will be a teacher. I enjoyed the teaching part and the interaction with the players and my fellow coaches at Iowa and national golf coaches. Looking back in high school, if somebody would have said your whole career would have revolved around golf, I would have said you were nuts. It did turn out that way, and I have loved it.”
“That was what I was really about.”
Thomason helped guide the Cyclones to the title at the 1970 Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) Midwest Regional Championship in Minneapolis to qualify for the national tournament.
Thomason’s first job out of college was as a physical education teacher at Davenport (Iowa) Central High School, and that was her first foray into coaching, where she led the golf team and started a volleyball program. After earning her master’s degree from Northern Iowa, Thomason took a position at the University of Iowa as a physical education teacher and coach in 1975.
“Those early days, you had to teach classes while coaching before they eventually made it a full-time coaching position,” she said.
It wasn’t until the 1981-82 season that the Big Ten Conference sponsored a championship for women’s golf.
“I can remember to this day sitting at Denny’s at Ohio State with Mary Fossum, the Michigan State coach,” said Thomason. “We were sitting at breakfast, and we had just gotten word that the Big Ten was going to officially have a Big Ten Championship for women.
“We all looked at each other and said, `Ha, we’ve been doing this since 1975 and before.’ We recognized all of those as championships.”
Thomason calls the recruitment of Tina Mulert to Iowa City as one of her best early moments as head coach. Mulert, who was a junior Iowa state champion as a prep, transferred to the UI when the program could offer scholarships.
“She was the talk of the state of Iowa,” recalled Thomason. “Her first year in 1977, she qualified for AIAW Nationals in Hawaii. We were like, `We’re going to Hawaii!’ That was a big thrill.”
Elena Callas was Thomason’s second dominant player, qualifying for the AIAW National Championships as an individual from 1979-81. Stacey Arnold joined the program in 1987 and that coincided with the best run in program history.
“1988-1991 was a great era for Iowa golf,” said Thomason, the 1985 LPGA Coach of the Year. “We had a great team and good players. The key player was Stacey Arnold, the most recognized of the two, but Shirley Trier was really good, and we had a good supporting cast.
“If you had two or three really good players that could regularly shoot under 80, you had a pretty solid chance. Today, you better have five or six kids shooting that number.”
Thomason led the Hawkeyes to a third-place finish at the 1989 Big Ten Championships and a runner-up showing in 1990 before winning the first Big Ten Championship in school history in 1991. Thomason was the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1990 and 1991, while Arnold was the Big Ten Player of the Year in 1991.
“When the team was able to go (to the NCAAs), that was unbelievable,” said Thomason, who was also the NGCA Coach of the Year in 1990. “That was a special year with a special group.
“I had a lot of good teams and players along the way. We had a lot of tournament wins that we weren’t expected to win. Those were always the best ones.”
As head coach, Thomason would daydream about a profession she might like to do more than coaching. After leading her final UI team in 2002, and working four years in compliance and now in athletics development, she can say she has that feeling.
“There is another job I love,” said Thomason of her special projects development officer position within the UI athletics department. “I still have that passion for the Hawkeyes, which I always have had, and now I am meeting other great people that have that passion and having a chance to catch up with other alums and keep the story going.”
Thomason says she misses the day-to-day interaction with student-athletes. That is where she was in her element, teaching, and mentoring.
“At the heart of it, I am and always will be a teacher,” she said. “I enjoyed the teaching part and the interaction with the players and my fellow coaches at Iowa and national golf coaches.
“Looking back in high school, if somebody would have said your whole career would have revolved around golf, I would have said you were nuts. It did turn out that way, and I have loved it.”
Thomason was inducted into the NGCA Hall of Fame in 1995, but she says this honor is more noteworthy.
“This Hall of Fame is very special because this is where I did my whole body of work,” said Thomason. “I love Iowa and am very passionate about the Hawkeyes, all of our teams. It is special that we’ll actually have a ceremony; the other one they just announce your name and hand you a plaque.
“What will truly be fun is to go in with this class. It will be a fun weekend and a run down memory lane. It already has been for me going through all of my pictures and memorabilia, finding letters and notes the players wrote to me… it has been fun.”