WELLESLEY, MA (September 21, 2016) -- On her 55th birthday, Ellen Port won her fifth match of the 55th U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship – while participating in her 55th USGA competition.
In a semifinal match Wednesday afternoon at the par-74, 6,049-yard Wellesley Country Club, the St. Louisan defeated Laura Coble, 52, of Augusta, Ga., in 19 holes to advance to her eighth USGA championship match, where she will face Andrea Kraus, 55, of Baltimore.
Port never led in the match until winning the par-4 first hole with a 4. Meanwhile, Coble never held more than a 1-up lead.
“When you get to match play, you just have to never give up and be very patient,” said Port, who defeated Lisa Schlesinger, 58, of Laytonsville, Md., in the quarterfinals. “My A game hasn't shown up. I’ve just been kind of inconsistent.”
Of her seven championship finals, Port has won six: the 1995, 1996, 2000 and 2011 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs and the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. (She lost the 2002 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur.)
“I seem to be very good at [match-play mentality],” she said. “I think that that has served me well over the years. I love competing. I think it’s kind of amateur golf at its best. Hopefully I have a little experience to draw on, but that doesn’t win matches. You still have to hit the golf shots.”
Port’s USGA portfolio is comprised of 23 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs, 17 U.S. Women’s Amateurs, four U.S. Senior Women’s Amateurs, three U.S. Women’s Opens, three Curtis Cups (one as captain), two U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and two USGA Women’s State Teams.
The U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs. The competition consists of 36 holes stroke play followed by six rounds of match play.
The 18-hole final is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday.
Kraus, who had never advanced beyond the quarterfinals in 25 USGA match-play championships, went extra holes twice on Wednesday. She first defeated stroke-play medalist, Judith Kyrinis, 52, of Canada, in 21 holes, then outlasted defending champion Karen Garcia, 53, of Cool, Calif., in the semifinals.
“I had a really long day with two really long matches against two terrific players,” said Kraus, who had reached the quarterfinals in three U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs. “It wasn’t flawless golf. We were tired. By the end it was who could survive, and I happened to survive today.”
In a sports town famous for exciting finishes – think Havlicek, Fisk, Flutie, Vinatieri – both semifinal matches featured drama and tension.
After Kraus made birdie on the 10th hole to take a 2-up lead over Garcia, the Northern Californian responded by winning three of the next five holes to take the lead. But Garcia lost her lead after a pushed drive on the 17th hole.
On the following hole, both players faced par putts of what appeared to be the same distance – about 15 feet – on opposite sides of the holes. After they couldn’t decide who was away, the referee measured the lengths of their putts and determined that Garcia was several inches away.
In front of an expectant gallery, both players just missed their putts, leading to extra holes. On the 19th hole, Garcia pushed another drive while Kraus hit “my chip of the week” to force Garcia to take a risk with her own chip from behind the green. After Garcia misplayed it, she conceded the hole and the match.
Also on the 19th hole, Coble missed a 5-footer par that would have extended the match. But the key hole was the par-3 15th, which features the course’s most severely sloped green, from back to front. Port made a 20-foot birdie putt with 10 feet of left-to-right break. That win squared the match, setting up the overtime finish.
“It’s just a brutal green, brutal,” said Coble. “[That putt] was a 10 out of 10 [in difficulty]. I mean, hats off to her. It was a great putt.”
The last time Port and Kraus faced each other in a USGA event, neither had won a championship. Port defeated Kraus, 4 and 3, in the Round of 16 in the 1995 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship – also in Massachusetts, at Essex County Club in Manchester.
Since that match, their fortunes have diverged somewhat. Port went on the win that championship and five others, while Kraus has contended but has never been this close to winning. But as the semifinal matches demonstrated, anything can happen over 18 holes – or more – of match play.
“It is pretty nice to finally get to a final, it really is,” said Kraus. “It’s really exciting. I’m delighted. I’ll do my best.”