By Pete Kowalski
SAN MARTIN, Calif. – A golfer who is a physical education teacher, high school golf coach and mother of two teenagers doesn’t have a lot of time to practice and compete.
But, somehow Ellen Port, the 2012 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur champion, makes it look easy, and succeeds at the highest level.
“I only play four or five tournaments a year between the months of June and September,” said Port in advance of the 2013 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur, which will be played Sept. 21-26 at CordeValle, a highly regarded Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that just two weeks later will host the Frys.com Open, the season-opening event on the 2013-14 PGA Tour. “I teach school and I have a 14- and 16-year-old. There aren’t a lot of tournaments for women my age to play in.”
The victory in last year’s Senior Women’s Amateur at Hershey (Pa.) Country Club was the fifth USGA title for Port, 51, of St. Louis, who is a seventh- and eighth-grade physical education teacher and boys’ high school golf coach at the private John Burroughs School in St. Louis. She had previously won the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship in 1995, 1996, 2000 and 2011. It’s quite a national championship résumé for someone who took up golf after college.
“I was an all-around athlete who played every sport and thought golf was a crazy game,” said Port, who will serve as captain of the USA Team at the 2014 Curtis Cup Match, to be held June 6-8 at St. Louis Country Club. “My dad played golf and I couldn’t understand why he played it. I didn’t really want anything to do with it because all the others sports came pretty easy to me.”
Port, who will celebrate her 52nd birthday on the first day of her title defense at CordeValle, was a “victim of circumstance” in her relationship with the game.
“I got hurt in class in my senior year in high school and the boys’ golf coach knew my dad and said ‘Ellen’s such a good athlete she can come out and play,’” Port added. “I did come out and play for two months on the boys’ team but then I went to college and I didn’t touch a club. Later I had my summers off since I was a teacher and I grabbed my dad’s old Wilson Staff blades and that’s when I started to play.”
Port, who has served on the faculty at John Burroughs School since 1986, played on USA Teams in the Curtis Cup Match in 1994 and 1996. And that was after getting serious about golf in 1987.
She credits her ability to be mentally strong, particularly in match play, as a reason for her success.
“It’s a mindset. It’s not an option to be tired,” Port said. “You can’t ever think you are tired. I’m the kind of player who gains confidence as I continue to win. I don’t consider myself great at stroke play – I just try to make the cut, I don’t go all out. As I continue on and I get my first match under my belt, I get more energy. I get so much energy, I have to throttle back.
I want to win, so that energizes me.”
Despite her fire for competition, Port missed the 2011 Senior Women’s Amateur in her first year of eligibility because it conflicted with her coaching schedule for golf.
“I am always juggling what is the right thing to do,” Port said. “But, I am looking forward to the (2013) Senior Women’s Amateur. I know they are hosting a Women’s Open there (in 2016). The course is great.”