Ellen Port, of St. Louis, has spent the last two decades experiencing success at the highest levels of the game. Since 1994, Port has won six USGA championships, compiled a 4-2 record as a member of two USA Curtis Cup Teams, and captained the victorious 2014 squad in her hometown at St. Louis Country Club. This week, Port will represent the Show Me State in the biennial USGA Women’s State Team Championship scheduled Sept. 10-12 at Dalhousie Golf Club in Cape Girardeau, Mo. She recently discussed her achievements, the upcoming championship and her new role as a college coach.
You last competed in the Women’s State Team in 2007. What prompted you to compete again?
A couple of years ago when Dalhousie Golf Club got the bid, the women at the Missouri Women’s Golf Association, they just put the bug in my ear that they would love for me to be on the team and they gave me plenty of advance notice, so I was able to work it out. It’s rare that it’s in Missouri, and you love your home state and I’ve always wanted to play and be on the team. This year I was able to say yes, and luckily I still have a good enough game to be on the team!
As somebody who has competed so much on a national scale, between winning six USGA championships and serving as captain of the USA Curtis Cup Team, is there something particularly special about representing your state?
Absolutely. Missouri is my state, it means a lot. With the connection we have with our state and the USGA, between [president] Tom O’Toole Jr. and [U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and two-time Walker Cup captain] Jim Holtgrieve, I’m pretty sentimental about Missouri.
And you got to captain a winning Curtis Cup Team in Missouri, which must have made it even more special.
It was special. It was one of the highlights of my career, and I still follow the girls, who are doing so well. And it also prompted me to realize I really enjoy this age group, so when the college situation came up, it kind of helped me there. It was really neat.
You recently made the transition from high school to college coaching when you accepted the Washington University job. How have the first few weeks gone?
Here I’m working around their schedule, which is great. As an amateur golfer, I get all that. I’m getting ready to go and recruit so we can try and win a [NCAA] Division III championship. [In high school] I had a three- to four-week preseason. Here, you only get 19 weeks between fall and spring, so I have to figure out how I’m going to use that [time], but these kids, they are really motivated and most of them have a plan for their swing. I’m here as a second pair of eyes.
Do you have more time to compete and practice in your new role?
Not initially, because I have so much to learn. I’ve been getting out the door at 7 a.m. and home at 9 p.m. Since the [U.S.] Women’s Amateur [last month at Portland Golf Club] I don’t think I’ve played 18 holes of golf. I probably have only played about 15 18-hole rounds this year and have played in only one or two tournaments. I’m glad they still let me play. They have been very supportive of my competitive endeavors and see it as an asset to the program. It’s all new, but change is good. This is very exciting, I couldn’t be at a better institution. It’s a nice new challenge.
The State Team being a stroke-play format, it’s a lot different than a lot of the competitions you’ve won, which have been contested at match play. Are there different keys to success?
Not really. I approach match play a lot like stroke play. You need confidence in this game, in match play or in stroke play. That’s what it’s all about. My 72 [last month] was my lowest round in the [U.S. Women’s Amateur], so that’s kind of encouraging to take into the State Team.
Is there anything about the State Team’s 3-count-2 format that makes it unique? What kind of strategy comes into play?
I’ll have to defer to one of the most mentally tough competitors in the history of the game and that’s [two-time major champion and five-time Ryder Cup competitor] Jack Burke Jr.; his advice has always been to go out and play like it all depends on you. We need to all go out and want to be the one who shoots the low number and not say, “I’m not doing good, I hope my partners are going to carry me.” You just can’t do that. I’ve got two really good teammates in Catherine Dolan and Kayla Eckelcamp. We have to just try to go out and golf our balls as best we can as if it all depends on us.
What can you tell us about Dalhousie Golf Club?
The thing that stands out about the club is not only is it a great test of golf, but the people there are so supportive of this event and women’s golf. They hosted the  Rolex Girls Junior Championship when [2014 USA Curtis Cup competitor] Alison Lee won it. I was scouting [for the Curtis Cup]. It’s the whole atmosphere and the hospitality, and you add that to a really good golf course, it’s a really good venue for the State Team.
You started playing competitively when you were 24, and there are a lot of players that age and up in the State Team. One area of opportunity in the game is to get more women in their 20s and 30s competing. What do you say to women in that demographic who are thinking about taking it up?
I just think most people that would be playing in these events are people who were college golfers and now they have a business or they’re going to start a family and they’re just trying to figure out how they can do it all. I accept that I’m not ever going to be as good as I can be because I don’t get to compete as much, and that’s hard for some players to accept. I tell people to try it. Once they see that they don’t have to play all the time and they can still maintain a decent game, they are perfect candidates for these types of events. Women have a lot on their plates. I just tell people, find your niche, just play [and] don’t give the game up.
Was golf always a competitive endeavor for you?
Oh, yes. The first time I teed it up in a women’s 18-hole league I think I hit my first two balls out of bounds, and I was so upset. I really am a fierce competitor … just to be the best that I can be and see what that means. The fact that I don’t play a lot, it’s more of a challenge to me. I have so much gratitude that I can still remain fairly competitive and juggle everything.
I used to really beat myself up [when I wouldn’t win] and then [seven-time USGA champion] Carol Semple Thompson gave me lectures about how I have to get over that. I didn’t play high school or college golf, so it took me awhile to learn that you lose a lot more than you win in golf. I asked Carol why she doesn’t get upset and she said, “Ellen, you just haven’t lost enough.”
Given that you have many years ahead of you and have already won six USGA championships, with the record being nine [shared by Bob Jones and Tiger Woods] does it ever cross your mind that you could get there?
Well, how could it not when you guys ask me that all the time! If you chase records, they will elude you because you’re thinking about the outcome. I’d be lying if I said I don’t think about it because people bring it up. I feel like it is reachable. I’m very realistic. I’m not going to say, ‘Oh I’m going to do this’ if I don’t really think I still can. To win a match-play tournament, you have to get a little lucky and you have to play really good. So many things have to go right for you. I’m not in the league of any of those players that are listed, but it’s so nice to be mentioned with them. I contend that I want it as bad as Tiger Woods and all of those players, I compete as hard. I’m a purist. I love amateur golf [and] I get emotional when I think about just winning six, because I’m so thankful.
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