DEAL, N.J. – When Ellen Port assumed the captaincy of the USA Team for this year’s Curtis Cup Match, she realized right away that her players needed to learn more about the history of the biennial competition. What she didn’t know at the time was that she was in for an education herself.
I learned a lot from them, said Port, who guided her team of 18- to 21-year-olds to a 13-7 victory over Great Britain and Ireland in June in her hometown of St. Louis. They were winsome – I use that word to describe them both on and off the course. They had such great personalities and a great perspective on the game. I loved the way they could be completely competitive and at the end of the day they could take their friends’ hands and have a great evening together.
Port, 52, is a two-time Curtis Cup player herself, and a six-time USGA champion who is preparing for the defense of her back-to-back U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur titles. The 2014 Senior Women’s Amateur will be played Sept. 13-18 at Hollywood Golf Club in Deal, N.J.
As a full-time teacher and high school golf coach, Port was heartened by her players’ approach to the 38th Curtis Cup Match, in which the USA regained the cup after losing, 10½-9½, at Nairn, Scotland, in 2012.
Their interaction with the crowds and the children was so refreshing – it reminded me of what I love about amateur golf, said Port. When the pros are competing, they often walk past the rows of people who want to high-five them with their heads down. I understand that; I’ve been that way myself at times. But I love the fact that my players could stop and give a smile to the standard bearer or the kid walking with them, then step back in and hit a great golf shot.
Port’s six USGA championships (Women’s Mid-Amateur titles in 1995, 1996, 2000 and 2011, along with Senior Women’s Amateur wins in 2012 and 2013) place her in lofty company: she is one of six women to have won at least six USGA titles. She is tied with Glenna Collett Vare and Hollis Stacy, one behind Anne Quast Sander and Carol Semple Thompson, and two behind record-holder JoAnne Gunderson Carner.
I laugh when I hear those names – I don’t put myself up there, said Port. I’ve won USGA events, but the highest pinnacle is when you’re a pro and playing in those events.
Port was stopped in her tracks a bit when she visited the USGA for the first time in early August. She toured the USGA Museum after missing the cut for match play in the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Nassau Country Club, in Glen Cove, N.Y., and saw the game’s history reflected in the exhibits, as well as her name etched multiple times in the museum’s Hall of Champions.
It was inspirational – it made me remember why we all love this game and how great it is to be a part of it, said Port, who was joined by her husband, Andy, in the foray to Far Hills, N.J. When you’re in the midst of playing, you don’t often pause and reflect. I want to keep competing and playing good golf, but it’s good for me to slow down and know that I’m a small part of the history of this game.
Having won a USGA championship in each of the past three years, Port was asked whether she is focused on surpassing Carner’s eight titles.
I think that golf has a strange way of, when you want something, it will keep eluding you, said Port. I buy into the idea of just keep doing what you’re doing. In the past couple of years, I’ve played some of the best golf of my life. If I keep playing as well as I can play – and that’s all I can control – I will put myself in a position to win again.
The U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur is being played one week before the Senior Women’s Amateur, and despite being fully exempt, Port will not be in Noblesville, Ind., for that championship.
I can only play in one of them – I teach school and coach golf, and it’s right during my season, said Port, who turns 53 on Sept. 21. At first I thought I’d rather play in the Mid-Am – I think part of it is that I don’t want to accept that I’m a senior. But I love the Senior Amateur and it’s going to be pretty hard to keep me away from the Senior now. The venues that I’ve played on for the Senior have been as good as any Women’s Amateur I’ve played in – and from what I have heard, Hollywood is going to be no exception.
Port professed some concern over her recent putting, but she will work on ironing that out around her busy schedule of teaching, coaching and family time with her husband and teenage son and daughter.
This is how I’ve always operated, said Port. I laid a really good foundation when I first started playing golf, as far as swing plane and understanding the game. I worked really hard prior to having kids and having all the restrictions on my time. I just try to maintain and not get too far off. I was at the range at 9:30 last night because it was the only chance I had – I really didn’t want to go, to be honest.
Port won her ninth Missouri Women’s Amateur title, as well as her 13th Metropolitan Women’s Amateur earlier in the summer, beating out fields filled with players less than half her age. For Port, who didn’t take up the game until age 25, the competition provides ample motivation.
I certainly haven’t gotten burned out, she said. I feel like I have some really good golf left in me.
Port’s recent history would certainly seem to support that assessment.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.