An Interview With Champion Port


By USGA
September 22, 2011

CHRISTINA LANCE: We have Ellen Port, now our four time Women's Mid Amateur Championship winner. That's the most we've ever had in the history of this championship. Tell us what being a champion means to you, Ellen. It's been a great week.

ELLEN PORT: It has been a great week. I think it's been ten years since I've won. I think I continued to work on my golf game and still kept the dream of maybe still making a final. Like I said, I want to - I really thank my instructor, Bryan Foat, for kind of giving me the things I needed to work on to keep my game alive.

Actually, and I'm not the only one that said this, I feel like my game was as good as I was when I won. But when you don't compete but three or four tournaments a year - and that's about what I get in the summer - when you get under the gun, it's been very frustrating not to produce the shots when you want it. My tendency is to get ahead of myself sometimes.

I'm actually still shocked that for the most part I stayed in every shot. I didn't once think about winning. I had to come back from behind once. But I was thinking about how many good shots I hit, and I don't know if I remember a tournament where I consistently hit as many pure irons and good tee shots. I've struggled with my driver for years. I think I got over the hump with that, and that was a big difference in my confidence.

So it's just a culmination of a lot of hard work and still having a life outside of golf and still wondering if you could still win. And so it's been a really special week.

Q. Is it easier or more difficult to play against a good friend of yours?
ELLEN PORT: You know, I thought about that. I was kind of like do I really want to - it's a discipline. You have to be really disciplined and focused no matter what happens. In a way it was fine because part of me said it doesn't matter who wins because I love Martha, and she's probably - she's playing really well. We played a practice round together.
 
But I had to scold myself a little bit because I was like, okay, don't get sentimental and don't throw in the towel. But that's golf at its finest, you know, being able to have two friends. And I know she's disappointed in the way she played, but she's a champion.

So you do have to kind of re gear. Once you start getting - I almost started crying walking down the fairway because I was watching John and Martha, who have been through so much. So I love playing with Martha. I'm really glad we played because I would have sincerely been happy if she'd have won as well.

Q. Do you remember the first time you played against her? She remembers. She told me.
ELLEN PORT: Well, there is a funny story in our last semifinal that she told me. I got on a birdie/eagle run, and I said, isn't this fun? And she kind of looked at me like, well, yeah. She didn't appreciate that comment. I didn't even remember saying it because I must have been so - I don't know when I last played her, but she's always been - I knew it wasn't a matter of if she'd win this but when. It wouldn't have surprised me at all if she'd have won this tournament, and it wouldn't surprise me again if she wins again.

Q. When you went on and got an early lead, did you feel a little more comfortable after that?
ELLEN PORT: Never feel comfortable. I didn't really think about that. It's nice to get an early lead, but they can evaporate so quickly. So that's what was so great. Never once did I think I was ready to go to 18.

When I've won before, I have this mindset, you know, and you can't - no matter how much you tell yourself to stay in the moment, sometimes you cannot get yourself there. And I don't want to say that I knew from the beginning it was going to be a good week, but it was I knew that back home, when I'm playing by myself, that I was hitting the ball places on my home course I'd never hit it. I knew I was driving the ball and playing really well.

No, the early - it helps to get up early, but I never - I didn't trail, I don't think, except on that one match when I was down 2 with four to go against Mina.

CHRISTINA LANCE: Was it Mina? Let me double check.

ELLEN PORT: No, it wasn't. It was - sorry. It was Sydney Wells. You know, I just really had a peace about everything this week. That's a good way to describe it. I was very calm and very at peace with myself, and I think that made a big difference in my golf game.
I was actually really shocked a lot of times when I'd stay in the shot and look up, and it was just like a target at the ball. I think the mind, as you get older, it's been hard for me to focus on the golf course. Like I said, I don't compete very much, and I'd be distracted. So it was really, really rewarding to get back and play the kind of golf that I knew that I had seen at home when I'm not competing.

Q. Ellen, tell me about your life back in St. Louis. You're a high school teacher and a golf coach?
ELLEN PORT: I coach at a school named John Burroughs School, and they're awesome. I didn't even play golf when I went there to work. I went there because I knew I could work part time when I had my kids, and I've been there 26 years.

I coach PE, and I was a girls field hockey coach in the fall for 25 years. They decided, you know what, I think it's time to move Ellen to golf. So I took over the girls this year. They're all home texting me, rooting for me. So are my field hockey coaches. And then I coach the boys team in the spring.

So John Burroughs School has been amazing because, when you only get three or four tournaments a year, if you're missing a national championship, to get off work, their support - I couldn't do it without them. Very supportive.

Q. It's a long time between trophies.
ELLEN PORT: Yes, that's amazing.

Q. Longer than anyone. Did you remember the feeling of winning it? Holding it? It's been 11 years.
ELLEN PORT: I think I remember more just what it takes, and you wonder if you can keep it up for that long. Like you just all of a sudden - I remember, to get there, you're just like, okay, I hit one shot at a time, and then you wake up, and you find yourself in the finals. It's almost like I do not remember what I shot when I was 2 under in my one match yesterday. Andy said, you were 2 under.

I just was in that, I did not know what I shot. I forgot all the bad shots. One thing I didn't forget, when I had that ball mark thing. But I just remember the zone of nothing but - I remember the facial - the way my face is, the way my muscles are, the way I walk. I remember just seeing the pin. I remember the timing of preshot routines where there's not that extra delay of indecision. I didn't have indecision.

And so just the rhythm of everything that it takes to win a championship was there. And you never forget that because most of the time I don't have it and I'm trying to get it, and I know what it's like to have it. I know when you get too anxious. I know when you want it too bad. And I know all the things that, when you play golf for 25 years, how you don't want to do it.

No, I remember it. It's awesome. It's so awesome to win and stay in your shot and hit the shot that you know you can when it really matters. That's what we live for. I mean, it's awesome.

Q. It's really a life milestone. You turned 50, and you win this.
ELLEN PORT: Yes.

Q. What does it sort of mean in the big picture? The average age is a little younger than that, I think?
ELLEN PORT: Andy always tells me, honey, you don't have anything to prove anymore. You're a three time champion. And he told me this week, you're playing like a champion today, Andy did. It's always you against the golf course. It's you against yourself. As you age, there are different battles. You have your memories. You have your age. You have your aches and pains.

I have friends that have - there's a lot of distractions in my life because I like to do a lot of different things. I've always committed and said, between me and my deal, I knew I was never going to get to play a lot of golf like a lot of my fellow competitors. So I really treat it like a gift because I don't want to give up the things that I can do outside - my teaching, my friends that need help in certain situations when I'd rather go to the golf course. I can't take off and go to a national tournament because of my kids.

To be able to still balance and be a true amateur and still play golf at this level, it's like you're a big fish in a little pond. But it's just great. It's just so rewarding. And I've had so many people in my corner, so many people pulling for me. It's just    you know, just being 50, it's just great. It's just fun.

So I missed the senior. I was a little disappointed because it was at the Honors Course, and it was one of my favorites. When I saw it on the calendar, I was like oh. But I just thought, I'm not ready. I'm not ready to be a senior yet because I still think I can play at this. Look at how many seniors do great.

It's very rewarding. Now my kids are old enough. They get it. I have a 14 and 12 year old. It's just fun. You can still play. It's good.

Q. Tell us about today. How were you playing before the rain, and how did you handle a delay like that in the middle of a match, in the middle of a hole?
ELLEN PORT: We did fine. I knew I was playing well. You can't - I couldn't get in to Martha. I couldn't start - I knew she wasn't as sharp as she'd liked to have been, and I can't start playing that game. I was really disappointed on 13. It was good to come out of that break and make that putt. That was really good.

I was disappointed that I knew what that putt was going to do on 13, and I just didn't believe it because I kind of had a similar putt not that much. So I was disappointed to kind of give it back a little bit. And I know Martha and that she was going to come back. It wasn't too bad. I got a little stiff.

I think we all wanted    Martha is great. She's not going to mess around. She's going to keep playing. And we wanted to play and get it done. We were getting ready to face the elements. That's the mindset you have. You have to go out, and it's going to be wet. So you just try to - you might have to change your strategy a little bit. No time to start whining. You got to get tough.

So I just said, all right. Advantage, Port. It's bad out. Let's go.

Q. You've got your sheet there. Could you just walk us through your holes real quick.
ELLEN PORT: Oh, my goodness. Well, I won that - I went and got a 4. I won the first hole. I'm trying to see if there was any highlights.

Q. You both birdied 3.
ELLEN PORT: Yeah, we both birdied 3. That was good. I made a nice chip on 2. I was between a 4H and a 5. I kind of have a gap on that. So it was either I hit the 4H and left it out or I was a little short. I said, I'd love to feather in my 5s. So I just took something off of it, kick left and kick right. So that was a nice little chip.

She actually gave me that. What happened on that? This was a different round, and she missed that putt, didn't she?

Q. Yes.
ELLEN PORT: That was big because she hit a nice shot in there. We both birdied 3. That was a great birdie.

And then 4 - what was 4? It was the - oh, I hit that bad shot. I was disappointed about that. I pulled over. That's where I get stuck. I got stuck. I don't think my legs were tired. I just sometimes get anxious, and I just hooked a 4H and didn't do very well on that.

5, I felt like I had a good chance at a birdie and missed that. I had trouble reading the greens. I think everybody did. The greens - to win this championship and feel like I never knew what the ball was going to do, I'm not kidding. A couple of them I really knew, and I made them. They are difficult greens. So I really did not read the greens very well, and I think that indecision started    I didn't want to have it wear me down, but I was hitting the ball so well. I didn't miss many greens, I think, the whole tournament once match play started. Or fairways. That was great.
And I don't think I missed too many - I didn't miss too many greens, did I?

Q. No, just a couple.
ELLEN PORT: I made a bad decision. I was kicking myself on 6, and I got greedy. I had been hitting a 5 wood or 4H, and I had an uphill lie, 246. I thought, I'm pumped up. Let's hit a 3 wood. And it was a bad decision, very bad decision. So I scolded myself on that. That's unfortunate because I didn't need to hit that. And par is a good score.

Q. Did you consider trying to play out of that lie?
ELLEN PORT: I couldn't have got to it. I considered it, but I think I had a better chance of sticking it. My wedges have been good. If I'd have stuck it up there and made the putt, we would have halved it. I couldn't have gone on that one.
Then 7 ended up being good. That was a nice hole. She yanked hers a little left and still made a great shot, and I made a nice putt on that. I think that was really an important hole.
And then 8, I was sitting pretty there, and I three putted. So 8 was that putt. She was in trouble on the right and punched out and put it up there. And that was disappointing because I was in between clubs and the pin was tucked. They tuck some pins here, which is so - I was in between a 6 and a 5, and, of course, you don't want to be short. So I took a 5 and got a little too much. I thought I had that putt earlier, and it was faster. I just left it. So that was disappointing to three putt 8.

Like I said, I'm thinking Martha is too good of a player.
9 we halved. So then we came back. 10 was really crucial. 10 was that bunker shot when I - that was the first bad come off of a swing, really ugly, bad shot. Even though it's hookers, that didn't bother me because it's wet - even on 17, it was wet. I probably should have taken a 5 and choked it up and feathered it, but that was from the middle of the fairway. I kind of actually envisioned that a little bit.

So anyway, that was a great hole to get up and down from there. Like Martha, she could make that putt, but she missed it.

Q. She made a great chip on it.
ELLEN PORT: She made a great chip, and I made a great sand shot. Those bunkers have a lot of sand in it. And I hadn't particularly been in many bunkers, but I didn't particularly hit too good of shots out of them either. So that was, I think, really - where did that put me then? Was I 2 up? Did I win that? Did I go 3 up there?

Q. You won that because she missed  
ELLEN PORT: I won that. I went to 2 up.

Q. She missed it.
ELLEN PORT: So I would say 10 was huge. And 11, great birdie opportunity there. She made a nice chip. That's when the rain came.

And 12, actually, I was pleased. I don't know why I don't want to go left there. I'm so used to going right over the bunker. There's so much room left. Martha gave me - she went right.

Q. Was weather a factor?
ELLEN PORT: No. That was just a - just something about that hole. That's a sign of a good golf course. I hadn't been roping them - I don't know why I just - that had been a really good hole for me most of the days, and it just moved just a little bit, and I played conservative and got away with it.

And then 13 - but I'm still up. It's really nice when you're up. That's why when you get that early lead, you have a little faux pas like that, I knew I wasn't going to go on a terrible bogey run. 13, that was disappointing.

But other than that, 14, I played it great. I was in between clubs again. I was 120, and it was either a hard pitching wedge or a knockdown 9. And I'm on soggy surface, and I knew that. Gosh, she had an opportunity there. If she would have made that, that would have been one - I would have been one down. The match was just - I mean, I never thought I would win that thing.

And then 15 I played - 15 I did say, I am not pulling my putter out of the bag because I had roped my last 5 wood to the left, and I hit a great 5 wood. And I said, as I walked up, I said, I'm not taking my putter out of the bag. And Andy looked at me and said okay. Then she gave it to me. That was a little self fulfilling prophecy.

Q. I'm sorry. Going back, did you expect her to make that? You obviously did.
ELLEN PORT: Oh, absolutely. She was going to make that. She missed too many short ones. She's a really good putter.

Q. She missed one on, I think, a couple of holes.
ELLEN PORT: She'd missed 14.

Q. Right. That was a pretty straightforward putt.
ELLEN PORT: She was going to make that because she missed more putts than she normally does. She's a really good putter. Then I put a great 7 iron. I did the same thing. I hooked it a little on 16. I was really kind of hoping to win that. I just felt like I was going to stick it. And I just - I was aimed to the right, and I just came over it a little bit. I really felt good over that putt and missed it.

I hadn't played 17 for a couple of days. I really didn't want to play 17. I really wasn't wanting to play 17. I was disappointed in that second shot, but she hit hers over. That was it. She could have made that putt too, and on we go. So it just was meant to be.

Q. So how - I mean, did the weather - or through the week and through the round, did that factor at all in your thinking or your preparation?
ELLEN PORT: No. I just think - I think I mis clubbed in the morning on 9 because it was downwind. I hit a 3 wood, and I should have hit a 4H. I nuked the 3 wood into the bunker left. We'd been hitting into the wind and even hitting driver on that hole. I was just disappointed. You don't like to make those mistakes.

But weather is weather. No. I mean, I was - no. It was fine. You just have to bear it down. That's why I think when you - it all goes back to when you keep working on your swing, and weather bothers me more when I hit fat shots and I don't clear my lower body and release the golf club. I think it all goes back to assessing your game and saying, where are my weaknesses? I want to get better.

So the weather, to be honest with you, because of the work I've done, it made me hit better shots. I nipped it better, and my move through the ball was better. And I attribute the weather doesn't affect you as much. I bored a couple of unbelievable shots in really bad conditions, and that is because I'm swinging better.

Q. On a sure shot, the wind does not affect.
ELLEN PORT: It doesn't.

Q. When you're doing this.
ELLEN PORT: Yeah, when you open it or get quick. So but it did affect Martha, I will say, when the rain came on 12. I was in the rough, and she was in the fairway. And she hit a really good shot up there, and it sunk back. And I was in the rough, and it released. I mean, I still had to hit it the right amount with all the water, but little things like that make big differences.

Q. In the semifinals, you played against a player who's playing her first national championship. Do you remember your first USGA championship?
ELLEN PORT: I tell you what I remember is going to my first U.S. Amateur in '89 to Pinehurst, and I probably had no business being there. I did not know how to come out of the sand. I was 24 years old. And there's a lot of sand at Pinehurst.

And I remember getting in a bunker on a hole going, oh, we didn't get to this. I think I was the high score. You'll have to look at the record.

Q. When was that?  
ELLEN PORT: It was '89 or something. I just started playing golf, and I just    I remember going, oh, I don't - sand? We didn't have a lesson on this. Oh, my God.

I just - I used to work with Hank Haney, and I almost went to a U.S. Open because all I was doing was working on digging weeds up, and I did that on every shot. I don't think I would have went if I'd have qualified. I was in a playoff, and I said, I've only been playing three years. I'm not supposed to be in a U.S. Open. I'm not very good. So anyway, it was funny.

Q. How impressive is it for someone like Helene Beat to reach this far in the championships?
ELLEN PORT: I don't know how much golf she played. I think she was a reinstated amateur.

Q. She was a teaching pro.
ELLEN PORT: A teaching pro, that's great. It's a marathon, and a lot of things have to happen. There are a lot of people - I look at this field, and people would say, you're going to win this. Part of me, you always say you're going to win when you come in, and I was like there are so many good players here now. I think it keeps getting - I think the quality of the golf has gotten better and better.

I think it's great. She did a great job, and she's young and strong. She said she's disappointed. That makes you hungry when you get this far and you don't play as well. She'll probably be a lot more motivated to keep working and get back here.

Q. Sure. And then through all these years, what has the USGA meant to you?
ELLEN PORT: Oh, my gosh. Well, they have been - they are the - what is it? The Clydesdale. They're the workhorse. They are. They're the Clydesdales. They keep coming back. The volunteers, the paid people as well, they've been so good to me.

I started golf late, so I didn't grow up with USGA. For them to support me and see in me a player that's good enough to be on a Curtis Cup team. For these women that have been out here and seen me play so much golf, I just think of Wilma Gilliland, Tom O'Toole is a good friend of mine. I've kind of seen - I just started so late, I just feel like I had - like I was thrown into it. I don't know. I'm rambling.

But I love the USGA because of what it stands for. I'm a purist. I'm the one who loves to play for the love of the game, and I love everything from the Play It Forward to what I'm doing with my kids to the rules of golf, which I got burned by.

They should change that stupid rule, that's the only time you lose control of your ball marker. That's a bad rule. My first teacher told me. That's what he wrote on his golf test - Harry Hauser. They ask which rule of golf should be changed? He said that one because it's the only time you lose control of your golf ball. And I thought, that is really true.

What was your question?

Q. You've answered several questions.
ELLEN PORT: Okay. I'm rambling.

Q. And I guess now you have another USGA championship starting next year that you'll be able to defend.
ELLEN PORT: I don't know. You guys are going to have to send John Burroughs, now that I'm defending on this, maybe I can get off two weeks of work. That's going to be a push.

Q. It's a good problem to have, I guess.
ELLEN PORT: It doesn't happen very often. If I don't make it an everyday deal, I might ask if I can do it just for the specialness of my first Senior and this. Like I said, they've been so supportive that I really try to be conscientious. I haven't played in state teams. I haven't done a lot of things because I don't want to take advantage. They're great.

Q. Did you qualify coming in here?
ELLEN PORT: I had to qualify.

Q. I thought you did because it's been ten years.
ELLEN PORT: Ten years, and I had some semis and quarters between there, and I was a finalist in 2001, but they don't carry over. I think those little things should carry over. I need them.

I had a ten year exemption, and I had to qualify in Kansas City with a good player who's been here before, and they had two spots. The fairways at Indian Hills went like that when you have to qualify. That's really neat I qualified and went back the old fashioned way and did it.

Q. Congratulations. You played great. Great to watch.
ELLEN PORT: Thank you. Appreciate it. Thanks for being out there through it all. I know it's been a long week for you guys too. We got it in.
CHRISTINA LANCE: We got it in. We're done. Anything else from you guys? Thank you.
ELLEN PORT: Guys, thank you so much.

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