Hershey, Pa. – Ellen Port of St. Louis, Mo., the 2012 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur champion, is one of those energetic, fresh-faced women who looks as if she hasn’t a care. She laughs a lot. She has many friends. As Port darted around this championship at Hershey Country Club, practicing or having lunch with pals, she seemed perfectly comfortable with her place in the world.
The national championship atmosphere fit her well. It should.
Port has won the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur four times in three different decades and her name is plastered all over the record book: Most victories. Largest margin of victory. Most times medalist. She is also the current holder of the Women’s Mid-Amateur title, which she won for the fourth time in September 2011.
Port is 50, a rookie at the Senior Women’s Amateur, and now, ho hum, she has won the championship in her first attempt, capped by a 4-and-3 victory over Jane Fitzgerald in the final match.
For the last month, Port has played golf only a couple of times a week. There’s her teaching and coaching job at the John Burroughs School, and she has two children, Drew, 15, and Katie, 13. And there was an added factor – Andy, her husband, has stage two prostate cancer.
“He was diagnosed in March,” Port said. “We then had to deal with the practical side of it, what are we going to do? What are our options? We prayed about it and there were neat things that happened along the way that directed us toward surgery. The month of June was surgery and rehab, and he recovered beautifully, right on schedule.”
Senior players have more in common than their age. At this point, life has happened. The giggling days of junior golf and carefree college years are past. Many of these players are married. They have children. They have jobs. Some have retired. The years take a toll. Some have injuries or illness. There are aging parents to care for. And loved ones, like Andy, fighting hard battles.
When Port was 24, Andy took her to a driving range on their first date. Ten years later she was a national champion, winning the 1995 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. Her husband of 27 years is her biggest fan. When she made the 1994 and 1996 USA Curtis Cup teams, Andy cheered from the sidelines. He has carried her bag at three of her national championship victories.
In 2000, he stayed home to take care of their toddlers. And he missed this one.
“I wish I could be in Pennsylvania and on Ellen’s bag so I could walk with her and see all our golf buddies,” Andy emailed.
“I miss him tons,” Ellen said. “This morning he gave me encouraging words. I love this texting. I woke up at 3 o’clock and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ He told me to play my game. He always says, ‘Honey, you don’t have anything to prove. You’re a champ. Just play your game.’”
Without Andy, Ellen is seemingly the same. She enjoyed the luxury of having time to practice, and during the week she hit balls, chipped and putted. Others knew Port was still a force to be reckoned with.
“Yes, I know who she is and what she has done,” Fitzgerald quietly said after the semifinals.
With so much going on in her life, Port still has her old drive to win.
“I seriously was asking myself where I am on my ‘will and want to win meter,’” she said the night before the final, “and I think it is starting to escalate big time.”
This evening Port will fly back to St. Louis and put her champion’s medal in a drawer. She’ll resume teaching duties and taking care of her children. Next month she’ll defend her title at the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur.
And she’ll take care of Andy.
“There was more cancer than we thought,” she said. “There was a lot on the perimeter, but it’s not in the lymph nodes. We’ll have to see what happens. It makes you grateful. You put things in perspective.”
Port has moved up the list of USGA women’s championships won. With five, she is listed with Juli Simpson Inkster, Carolyn Cudone, Dorothy Porter and Mickey Wright. (JoAnne Gunderson Carner tops the list with eight.)
“I’m a puny fish in a puddle, not even a big fish in a pond,” Port said. “Everybody takes the game in a different way. We were at the professional route, and Andy and I decided that wasn’t the route we wanted to take. To do everything I do and still juggle and be a champion makes me more grateful, because there are days when it’s hard.
“I have great respect for all the people that go before me,” she said. “They’re way better than me. But history and golf go together, and to be small part of it is an honor.”