Ellen Port, 50, of St. Louis, Mo., captured five consecutive holes on the inward nine to defeat Jane Fitzgerald, 50, of Kensington, Md., 4 and 3, Thursday and win the 2012 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur Championship at the par-74, 6,220-yard Hershey Country Club West Course.
Port, who trailed by one hole at the turn before seizing control, becomes the second player to have won both the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur and the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur in a career. Carol Semple Thompson was the first. Port also joins a group of 10 players who have garnered at least five USGA women’s championships.
"It’s an honor to be another USGA champion, said Port, who claimed her fourth Women’s Mid-Amateur last September. "I have a medal and a flag in the same (calendar) year that I won the Mid-Am. I am so shocked and ecstatic."
The USGA 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 132-player field went through 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying and six rounds of match play to determine a champion.
Port, who dominated four of her previous five matches in this championship, struggled mightily over the opening nine holes. But she changed from a riding cart to walking with a pull cart to start the 10th hole. The move seemed to bring about the needed result.
She chipped close to the hole from 38 feet at the 11th for a conceded par, while Fitzgerald ran into trouble with her approach shot, which finished near the cart path behind the green. From there Fitzgerald made bogey and the match was all square.
"I was going to take advantage of the cart, but there is a pace that gets totally spoiled," Port said. "I knew if I changed up and walked, it wasn’t going to hurt because I wasn’t doing that good on the front nine."
Whatever her mode of transportation, Port grabbed her first lead of the day when she hit a tee shot on the par-3 12th to within 8 feet of the hole. Her birdie putt broke 12 inches, left to right, and fell in the top side of the hole.
She continued her run and pushed out to a three-hole advantage with a par at No. 13 and a birdie at No. 14. Fitzgerald, an unexpected finalist as the 44th seed in the match-play bracket, had a bogey-6 at the 13th after hitting a tree with her tee shot. Meanwhile, Port sent her chip from the greenside rough past the hole, but sank a critical downhill 12-footer for par. On the 14th, she set up the birdie with an approach to 6 feet below the hole.
"When I made that putt (on 13) – and it looked like we were going to halve the hole – I was in the driver’s seat," Port said.
Fitzgerald, who like Port was playing in her first Senior Women’s Amateur, tried to swing the momentum her way when she went for the par-5 15th in two. Instead, her fairway wood shot went left into vine-like ground cover near the front of the green. The ball was never found and led to Fitzgerald conceding the hole and match.
"It was 215 yards," said Fitzgerald, who played as a collegian at nearby Penn State University. "I usually play freer and more aggressive and I felt that Ellen is such a good player that I needed a little magic. That’s why I went for the green."
Earlier in the match, Fitzgerald took a 1-up lead on the par-3 5th when she two-putted for a par. With Port carding four bogeys and a double bogey due to primarily landing in numerous greenside bunkers, Fitzgerald had opportunities at Nos. 8 and 9 to increase her margin. However, her birdie putt hit the hole and spun out on the 8th and she three-putted at the 9th.
"Number nine was tough because I three-putted from 10 feet when I could have gone 2 up," said Fitzgerald, who knocked out fifth-seeded Taffy Brower in 19 holes in the round of 16 and medalist Lisa Schlesinger in the semifinals. "I became a little nervous with my putting."
Now Port takes her place among the most prolific USGA women’s champions, names such as Joanne Carner, Glenna Collett Vare and Mickey Wright.
"It's great," Port said. "I'm a puny fish in a puddle, not even a big fish in a pond, but the thing is we all have it in common."
Hershey, Pa. – Results of Thursday’s championship round of match play at the 2012 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur Championship, played at the 6,220-yard, par-74 Hershey Country Club (West Course)
Championship (18 Holes)
Ellen Port, St. Louis, Mo. (150) def. Jane Fitzgerald, Kensington, Md. (162), 4 and 3