Ellen Port, 51, of St. Louis, has been chosen by the USGA to captain the 2014 USA Curtis Cup Team that will face Great Britain and Ireland June 6-8 at St Louis Country Club. Port, a five-time USGA champion, competed in the Curtis Cup in 1994 and 1996. Port recently talked by phone with USGA senior staff writer David Shefter about captaining the team and her past Curtis Cup experiences.
USGA: What was your immediate reaction when the phone call came from the USGA?
Port: I was excited and honored and eagerly accepted. From the time St Louis Country Club was announced as the site for the 2014 matches, there was speculation that I might be selected as captain. But there are so many deserving people I really wasn’t expecting it and didn’t want to get my hopes up. Now that it has become a reality, I am simply ecstatic at the thought of being captain.
Martha Lang, the outgoing chairman of the USGA Women’s Committee and a member of the USGA’s International Team Selection Committee, made the phone call to you. You’ve competed many times over the years against Martha in USGA events and she served as your captain for the 1996 Curtis Cup Match in Ireland. Did that make the selection any more special?
Yes, it was special having Martha extend the invitation. I have known Martha as a fellow competitor, captain and friend for years and I marvel at all she has accomplished in golf. She serves the game in a humble, tireless way.
Is this appointment the crowning achievement of your brilliant amateur career?
I am not sure I look at it as an achievement but rather a tremendous honor given to me by the USGA. For the selection committee to choose me as captain fills me with a sense of gratitude that is hard to express.
Does captaining the 2014 Match in your hometown of St. Louis make this opportunity a little more special?
Absolutely. St. Louis is an awesome sports town and I am excited that St. Louisans are going to have the chance to experience what I think is golf at its finest. It is going to be neat to look out in the crowd and see so many friends. There are so many people in St. Louis who have been instrumental in my success. It will be so neat to share in this experience with them. I sometime find myself thinking this is almost too good to be true.
Given your recent successes – winning your fourth Women’s Mid-Amateur in 2011 and the Senior Women’s Amateur last fall – do you have any thoughts of being a playing captain?
The thought has crossed my mind. The last couple of years I have been playing really good golf. I will keep working on my game and preparing for the U.S. Women’s Amateur in August. But my main focus will be on my role as captain. I have been so blessed to play on two Curtis Cups and now I have the added blessing of being captain. I am looking forward to every minute of it.
Especially in today’s game where the elite amateur ranks are dominated by juniors and college-age golfers, it’s tougher for mid-amateurs to get Curtis Cup invitations. The last two USA Teams didn’t have a mid-am on the roster, yet when you played in 1994 and 1996, there were four and five mid-amateur players on the team, respectively.
We have all seen the growing number of junior golfers entering the local, national and international scene. There are so many talented young players who are able to devote themselves completely to golf. This is not always the case for the mid-ams who have a few more demands on their time. However, there are some very strong mid-amateurs who have the game to play with the best of the young players. I often recall what my dear friend and teacher Brian Fogt tells me: “Remember, Ellen, the golf ball doesn’t know how old you are.”
How much will you scout potential team members?
The USGA has a process in place and we are not far enough down the line for me to understand my role. Obviously, I have a vested interest and I will be keeping an eye on the major amateur events and the players who have top finishes. I love watching the young gals play so this will be a very enjoyable aspect of my job.
You’re close with Jim Holtgrieve, the Walker Cup captain, you’ve played on Curtis Cup Teams with Carol Semple Thompson, a two-time captain, and you’re friends with the past two Curtis Cup captains, Noreen Mohler and Pat Cornett. How much will you lean on them for advice?
I have a great deal of respect for each one of these people and know that they will help me in any way they can. I will probably ask them a few questions along the way. I can’t think of four more knowledgeable people to talk to about their experiences. I am hoping to attend the Walker Cup in September to watch the players as well as Captain Holtgrieve.
I am sure you have some knowledge of St. Louis Country Club and what it will take to fare well on this layout.
I have played St. Louis C.C. a handful of times. It is a great test of golf and always in excellent condition. It has some unique features like two very challenging back-to-back par 3s (Nos. 2 and 3). It also has some risk-reward holes. The greens can be fast and tricky, and I have a suspicion that this is where matches will be won or lost.
What kind of off-course activities will you plan for the team?
Obviously, my biggest concern will be that the girls are fresh for the matches,- but I am sure we will have some fun off the course as well. This event is not just about golf, it is about forming relationships with your teammates. Team building will be a priority.
Is there a special playing moment for you from either Curtis Cup appearance?
When I was paired with Kelli Kuehne during our foursomes match in 1996, the 18th green was surrounded by thousands of people and fortunately I made the four-foot putt to win the match.
David Shefter is a senior writer for the USGA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.