Ellen Port (USGA photo)
KINGSTON SPRINGS, Tenn. (Aug. 7, 2018) – Ellen Port’s
description of her game hours after making it to match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur is not what you would expect. She was critical of her timing, her tee shots, her form and her alignment. Luckily – and predictably – her mind was just right.
“The funny thing is I’m not 100 percent on, not playing my best, but I have done what I do well over time and that’s just compete and keep my mind positive,” said Port, a 56-year-old grinder whose maternal disposition and charm belies an intensely competitive spirit.
Despite all the things Port wishes were going better in her game – and will improve with a little more time to focus on golf in the coming year – she produced a back-nine 2-under 33 on Tuesday that ended with a sweetly struck 4-hybrid to 6 feet. It set up a final birdie, and ultimately got Port onto the bracket amid dozens of teenagers.
“The shot was exactly what I envisioned,” said Port, who had rounds of 71-72 at the Golf Club of Tennessee. “I hit the shot at the right time, exactly when I needed it.”
Port has won seven USGA titles -- four at the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur and three at the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur. The Women’s Amateur has always been the tournament in which Port wanted to perform, and that has also created a hurdle. As Port reasons, “I think I wanted to do too well.” She last qualified for match play in 2003 and lost in the first round. Her best run was to the quarterfinals in 1992.
At the beginning of the week, Port played a practice round with Haley Moore, an exceptionally long-hitting member of the Arizona women’s golf team that won a national title in May, and Gina Kim, a Duke commit who qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open this summer.
Port marveled at their strength and talent – indicative of a field that averages just over 19 years of age – then worked out in her head a number she thought would get her into match play: even or 1 over. Sometimes that makes it a little too easy to press, but Port scrambled to her 1-over number and made the cut with a shot to spare.
Port became the oldest player to make match play at the Women's Amateur since Anne Sandor in 1994. Port is only 22 days younger than Sandor was that year.
Just as the next generation left an impression on Port, she has left one on them, too. With those seven USGA victories, Port is firmly entrenched in women’s golf lore. When she teed it up at the inaugural U.S. Women’s Senior Open last month, the eight women she led to victory at the 2014 Curtis Cup (all of whom have now turned professional) tweeted huge support for their captain.
Including Port, there are eight women older than 25 in the Women’s Amateur field. Katy Winters, a 27-year-old reinstated amateur who gained entry through an 18-hole qualifier (in other words, the hard way), mentioned Port fondly in an interview with the USGA.
“It’s really great to be competing again,” Winters told the USGA. “A friend of mine, who has also gotten her amateur status back, and I say we want to be Ellen Port in 30 years.”
After teaching physical education (and coaching girls golf) for more than 30 years in St. Louis, Port transitioned to coaching women’s golf at Washington University in St. Louis, an NCAA Division III school, in 2015. Port left that gig at the end of the spring season, but she’s not ready to use the R-word.
“I am in a very strange state, I never thought about retiring (this early),” Port said. “…I always like to be doing a lot of different things.”
It remains to be seen what Port will throw her energy into, though she can envision getting back into teaching, in some form, down the road. For now, she’s focusing on her golf. Port works with instructor Bryan Fogt, the director of golf at Bellerive, which is hosting this week’s PGA Championship. She was a student of Hank Haney’s in the early 2000s, before he picked up that other guy, Tiger Woods.
Regardless of how far she goes this week, Port is determined to devote more time to her golf, and upgrade her driver technology in anticipation of playing both the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur and the U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur in the fall. The Mid-Amateur will be played at Norwood Hills Country Club, in Port’s St. Louis home.
“I’m close,” she said of how she is playing. “I like a lot of the things I’m doing.”
Looking back to all of those titles Port has won, her game wasn’t always firing. Port has learned to make the most of what she shows up with on any given day. Here’s a player who took up the game later in life – not until her mid-20s – and thrives on match play.
“I just always enter these tournaments, get in there and then anything can happen,” Port said. “I’m looser in match play and I get stronger the longer I stay in it.”
ABOUT THE U.S. Women's Amateur
The U.S. Women's Amateur, the third
the USGA championships, was first played
at Meadowbrook Club in Hempstead, N.Y.
event is open to any female amateur who
USGA Handicap Index not exceeding 5.4.
Women's Amateur is one of 14 national
championships conducted annually by the
10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
View Complete Tournament Information