Day of Celebration, Remembrance for Finalist Port September 21, 2016 | Wellesley, Mass. By Rob Duca

On a day she reached her eighth USGA final and turned 55, Ellen Port also reflected on her dad's passing 32 years ago. (USGA/Matt Sullivan)

U.S. Senior Women's Amateur Home

It was a bittersweet day. Ellen Port had reason to celebrate her 55th birthday on Wednesday after advancing to the final match of the 55th U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur Championship at Wellesley Country Club. But it was also a time for reflection as she thought of her late father, who introduced her to golf and died exactly 32 years earlier.

“This is always a day of mixed emotions in my life,” said the six-time USGA champion. “But I have gratitude. I count my blessings. You never know if you’ll pass this way again. It takes so much to reach the finals.”

Port began her golfing life at the relatively late age of 25. Fom the beginning, she targeted USGA championships.

“That was always my No. 1 goal,” she said. “There is nothing better than winning a national title. Every time I go out and practice late at night I dream about reaching this point, because this is the ultimate goal.”

But there was a time when she worried she would never get there. She missed the cut in her first two USGA championships, the 1989 and 1990 U.S Women’s Mid-Amateurs.

“I had to write myself a letter where I said that even if you never win a national championship, it doesn’t mean you’re not a really good golfer,” said Port, who owns four U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur titles and goes for her third U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur title on Thursday morning. “I try to keep it all in perspective and have gratitude for being here.”

Port was able to tear up that letter a long time ago. If she prevails on Thursday against fellow 55-year-old Andrea Kraus, of Baltimore, she will tie Carol Semple Thompson and Anne Quast Sander with seven USGA championships. Only JoAnne Gunderson Carner has more USGA titles (eight) among the female ranks. 

Most USGA Titles Won By A Female
Name Titles Championships
JoAnne Gunderson Carner 8 1965 U.S. Girls' Junior; 1957, 1960, '62, '66, '68 U.S. Women's Amateur; 1971, '76 U.S. Women's Open 
Carol Semple Thompson 7 1973 U.S. Women's Amateur; 1990, '97 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur; 1999, 2000, '01, '02 U.S. Senior Women's Amateur
Anne Sander 7 1958, 1961, '63 U.S. Women's Amateur; 1987, '89, 1990, '93 U.S. Senior Women's Amateuer
Hollis Stacy 6 1969, 1970, '71 U.S. Girls' Junior; 1977, '78, 1984 U.S. Women's Open
Glenna Collett Vare 6 1922, '25, '28,'29, 1930, '35 U.S. Women's Amateur
Ellen Port 6 1995, '96, 2000, 2011 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur; 2012, 2013 U.S. Senior Women's Amateur

She also owns eight Missouri State Amateurs, is a 13-time St. Louis Metropolitan champion and was captain of the victorious USA 2014 Curtis Cup Team at St. Louis Country Club. She played on two USA Curtis Cup Teams in 1994 and 1996.

Port, who lives in St. Louis, reached the final on Wednesday with a 19-hole win over 2009 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur runner-up Laura Coble, of Augusta, Ga. After falling behind early, Port scrambled to halve holes throughout the match. She didn’t pull all square until draining a difficult sidehill 20-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole.

“I never feel out of a match,” she said. “I love being able to pull off a shot. I think I can really focus in on the task at hand and keep from getting too far ahead of myself. It’s just me and the golf course. That’s the way it’s always been. That’s all I can control, and that frees me up.”

This week’s Senior Women’s Amateur is only her third competition of the year, which makes her run to the finals even more remarkable. As a teacher at the John Burroughs School and the golf coach at Washington University, both in St. Louis, Port rarely has time to put her game to the test. But, she points out, that’s been the story throughout her golf career.

“When the gun goes off tomorrow, none of that will matter,” said Port. “I’ll just convince myself that I’m the world’s greatest amateur. It’s what I’ve done my whole life. That’s just how I operate.”

In her mind, reaching the final is a bonus. The challenge was the journey.

“I’m always loosest in the final,” she said. “I think, ‘Here I am, just go for it.’ If you get too tight or try too hard or want it too much it will backfire on you. I have that discipline of staying in the shot and making good decisions. It’s really just another match. That’s how I have to look at it.”

So how will she celebrate her birthday?

“I will call my husband, Andy, find some dinner and then maybe go hit some wedges,” she said, laughing. “No, really, I’m fine. I shouldn’t be too critical of myself. I’ve had a wonderful golf life and a wonderful life, period. That’s why my favorite movie is “It’s A Wonderful Life.” I love feel-good, happy stories.”

One more could be coming her way on Thursday.

Rob Duca is a Massachusetts-based writer.

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