U.S. WOMEN'S MID-AMATEUR
With More Prep Time, Ellen Port Prepares for Home Game
September 20, 2018
By David Shefter, USGA
In late July, Ellen Port was playing in the annual Prairie Invitational, a Kansas City-area open competition featuring professional and amateur golfers, when she spotted several coaches scouting the talent in the field.
Port felt a weird sensation. Not because she was competing. That’s something she’s done for some three decades, and at an extremely high level. For the first time in four years, Port didn’t need to watch other players or offer a recruiting pitch.
On June 30, Port officially resigned from her head-coaching post at Washington University, an NCAA Division III program in St. Louis. For the first time in 35 years, she’ll enter the fall without thinking about schedules, lesson plans or lineups.
This newfound freedom, of course, gives the seven-time USGA champion – she has won a record-tying four U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs and three U.S. Senior Women’s Amateurs – more time to do what she loves: compete.
When it comes to women’s amateur golf, few can match the St. Louis resident’s pedigree. Port can make a strong argument for being a member of Mount Rushmore’s modern-day female amateur legends, alongside the likes of Carol Semple Thompson, Anne Sander and Marlene Stewart Streit.
Last month in the 118th U.S. Women’s Amateur at The Golf Club of Tennessee, Port, nearly seven weeks shy of her 57th birthday, defied the odds by becoming what is believed to be the second-oldest competitor to qualify for match play, just 22 days younger than when Sander achieved the feat in 1994. This was against a field with an average age of 19.53, or about the same age as her college-sophomore daughter, Katie.
Although she used to recruit the type of player she played with in the Women’s Amateur, Port’s competitive passion remains as fiery as ever.
|U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur||Essex County Club
|1995||Brenda Corrie Kuehn||3 and 1|
|U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur||Mission Hills C.C. (Dinah Shore Course)
Rancho Mirage, Calif.
|1996||Kerry Postillion||2 and 1|
|U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur||Big Canyon C.C.
Newport Beach, Calif.
|2000||Anna Schultz||3 and 2|
|U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur||Bayville Golf Club
Virginia Beach, Va.
|2011||Martha Leach||2 and 1|
|U.S. Senior Women's Amateur||Hershey C.C. (West Course)
|2012||Jane Fitzgerald||4 and 3|
|U.S. Senior Women's Amateur||CordeValle
San Martin, Calif.
|2013||Susan Cohn||3 and 2|
|U.S. Senior Women's Amateur||Wellesley Country Club
|2016||Andrea Kraus||3 and 2|
Now that there’s more free time in her schedule, Port can gear up for major USGA fall events such as this week’s U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship at Norwood Hills Country Club, where she’ll be the overwhelming local favorite. It will be her first appearance in the championship since 2012 when she was the defending champion.
Due to her coaching and teaching gigs – she was a high school coach and physical-education teacher for 32 years before taking the Washington University post – Port’s fall availability was limited. She was forced to choose between playing the Women’s Mid-Amateur or the Senior Women’s Amateur, and she had to take personal days to do so.
“I don’t know if it will necessarily translate into better results,” said Port. “My expectations should not go up just because I have more time. I realize that.”
Two weeks after her resignation was finalized, Port teed it up in the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at historic Chicago Golf Club. The week was a trip down memory lane, and although she didn’t play as well as she wanted, she was one of seven amateurs to make the cut (T-33). The three days leading into the 72-hole, stroke-play competition were surreal.
At the players’ reception, she hobnobbed with legends such as eight-time USGA champion JoAnne Gunderson Carner, and U.S. Women’s Open champions Betsy King, Hollis Stacy, Juli Inkster and Pat Bradley. She befriended incoming PGA of America president Suzy Whaley, and invited her to Boone Valley, Port’s home club, for a round of golf the week of the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. She played with fellow career amateur Martha Leach, who wound up as the low amateur (T-10).
Before play began, most of her eight 2014 USA Curtis Cup competitors, whom she captained to victory at St. Louis Country Club, tweeted out good-luck messages. She also had longtime member Dan Kinsey on her bag, which made navigating the classic C.B. Macdonald layout a bit easier.
“It was phenomenal,” said Port. “To be the first of anything … I mean they’ve waited 30-something years. I was more excited for the professionals. I was honored to watch it unfold for them.”
Port loved coaching and recruiting, but not so much the “extra” duties that turned the position into a year-long enterprise. When she was coaching high school golf, field hockey and basketball, Port had her summers free. She could practice and play, and spend quality time with her husband, Andy, and two children, Drew, a University of Tulsa senior majoring in computer information systems, and Katie, a graphics design major at Arkansas.
“I loved the kids,” said Port, who had dinner with one of her Washington players, Chloe Dipetrillo, at the Women’s Amateur as she was caddieing for sister Sophie. “I loved being a PE teacher. I loved to introduce kids to golf and healthy eating. Just pass along nuggets about life. In college, most of [the players] already have a coach. They already have their ways. My job was more of a managerial role, making schedules, transportation and budgets and keeping track of all of your receipts. I’m not a money person. The amount of emails and computer work is something that I never had to do [in high school].
“Recruiting was the easy part. I love to talk golf and the golf swing, and I love parents. The school sells itself. Washington U is a great school.”
Port certainly doesn’t regret giving it the proverbial old college try, and she is not ruling out a return to high school coaching or mentoring, even if it’s part time.
But for the first time, she can enter the fall focused on competitive golf. Don’t put it past Port to make deep runs, if not win, at the Women’s Mid-Amateur and certainly the Senior Women’s Amateur the first week of October at Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club in Vero Beach, Fla.
Immediately upon her return from Tennessee, where she lost in the Round of 64 to Arkansas All-American Dylan Kim, Port was back fine-tuning her game. Port goes all out in everything she does, even if her body doesn’t recover as quickly as it did 25 years ago. She won’t ceremoniously show up at Norwood Hills.
“I’m looking forward not to have to travel,” said Port, who lost in the Round of 16 to eventual champion Laura Shanahan-Rowe 17 years ago at Fox Run Golf Club in Eureka, Mo., the last time the Women’s Mid-Amateur was conducted in St. Louis. It also was Port’s home course at the time. “I’m aware of the distractions and the pressure you put on yourself and I’ll try to fight that off. I don’t think that will affect me.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.