Members of the 2014 USA Curtis Cup Team called her “Captain,” but this fall, a group of college players will call Ellen Port “Coach.”
That’s because the six-time USGA champion will officially begin her tenure as coach of the NCAA Division III Washington University women’s golf team on Aug. 24. With the school located in Port’s hometown, it was the perfect opportunity for the longtime high school teacher/coach.
Port’s newfound role “came out of the blue” and was not something she was seeking.
“I have been teaching and coaching at one of the best high schools in the country – The John Burroughs School in St. Louis – since 1986,” she said. “I’ve been there since I graduated from college. I’ve grown up there and it’s been like a family.”
Port has coached “practically every sport” at Burroughs and taught physical education classes at the school for nearly 30 years. She had coached the boys’ golf team since 1993 and the girls’ golf team since 2011, winning one state title with each team.
“I just didn’t think I would ever leave Burroughs because it’s a wonderful place,” said Port, 53, the oldest player in the field at this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Portland Golf Club. “With my seniors, we’ve finished first and second in the state for the last two years, so I had no plans to leave.”
But when Washington University contacted her in mid-July, Port listened carefully during an on-campus interview. The university was looking for a new women’s golf coach, and with Port’s accomplishments including four U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur titles (1995, 1996, 2000 and 2011), a pair of U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur championships (2012, 2013), a role representing her country in the Curtis Cup Match twice (1994, 1996) and captaincy of a victorious USA Team last summer at St. Louis Country Club, they turned to the most successful woman golfer in town
“I went to the interview because I wanted to learn more about the university and their women’s golf program,” said Port.
“I actually called a friend of mine and told him about the job opening. I told him he should interview for the job as coach.”
But the university targeted Port.
And her experience last year as Curtis Cup captain had a lot to do with why she finally said “yes” after oscillating with the decision to leave a place she loved.
“It became apparent that I was going to have to make a tough decision between two really good options,” said Port. “It took a while to get me across the finish line because it was a very emotional decision and I already felt like I had the best job.”
During a conference call with the university, members of the women’s golf team were allowed to ask the potential new coach questions. Port also was given the chance to ask the players questions.
“They reminded me of the players on my 2014 Curtis Cup team and I suddenly could see myself coaching there,” she said. “I felt like I had some things to offer them and then I thought, ‘Why not?’”
Port takes over a program that finished third in the 2015 NCAA Division III Women’s Golf Championship – their best in the team’s history. The Bears finished in the top three in all 12 tournaments and tied a season record with six wins.
Having players who understand the balance of academics with athletics will be similar to what Port experienced at Burroughs. Because Division III schools can’t award athletic scholarships, the coach knows that students who play golf in an academic-focused school are doing so because they love the game.
“It will be a new thing for me, but I’m looking forward to being able to pour into them anything I can to help them in golf and outside golf,” said Port. “Good players aren’t always good coaches, but I want to be a good coach.”
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.