USGA taps St. Louis local Port for Curtis Cup captaincy

Ellen Port during the 2011 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur

Ellen Port during the 2011 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur

So much of Ellen Port's golf history has been written with St. Louis as the backdrop. That ranges from beginner to state amateur champion to USGA champion and, by 2014, will include a Curtis Cup captaincy.

Port, 51, will get the rare chance to captain the biennial international competition in her backyard when the 2014 matches are contested at St. Louis Country Club on June 6-8. Port drives past the course daily to get to John Burroughs School, where she’s in her 27th year as a physical education teacher and coach.

“I certainly wake up every morning thinking about it,” Port said of a captaincy that’s just beginning to sink in.

To Dot Paluck, chairman of the USGA Women’s Committee, Port's location is only part of the equation.

"I think St. Louis is a bonus, not the reason she was chosen," Paluck said. "She has one of the best records in women's amateur golf."

Aside from knowing the St. Louis golf landscape from the grassroots level on up, Port, who grew up in Kansas City, Mo., is the name perhaps most associated with women’s amateur golf in Missouri. She’s an eight-time Missouri Women’s Amateur champion, a five-time USGA champion (four U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur titles and a U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur title) and holds spots in the Missouri and St. Louis sports halls of fame.

St. Louis Country Club will provide a familiar surrounding for her third Curtis Cup appearance. She played for the Americans in 1994 and '96 – a loss and a tie, respectively, to Great Britain & Ireland.

"I love St. Louis," Port said. "It’s kind of where I have my roots for golf. I didn’t play when I moved here right after college.”

After graduating from Missouri in 1983, Port began teaching and coached girls field hockey and basketball. At that point, she didn’t even know the Curtis Cup existed. A local golf pro mentioned it one day, urging her to set her sights on finding a place in the prestigious team event. A decade later, Port had achieved it.

“It’s amateur golf at its finest,” Port said.

The U.S. team, which lost the 2012 Curtis Cup in Nairn, Scotland, leads the series, 27-7-3.

Because of a strong youth movement in golf, Port might be the last player to take up the game as a mid-amateur and play in the Curtis Cup. The 2012 U.S. squad consisted of eight collegians, and the 2010 squad featured two players still in their teens. The last mid-amateur to make a Curtis Cup team was Meghan Stasi in 2008, at age 30.

“I think about that a lot,” Port said of how women’s golf has changed in the past 25 years. The Curtis Cup provided a golf experience she’d never before had.

“Definitely the relationships and the people you played on the team with, that’s always memorable,” she said. “I didn’t have high school golf, I didn’t have junior golf, I didn’t have college golf, so I had never really been in a team situation.”

Consider Port’s decorated amateur resume, Curtis Cup experiences and day job as a coach, and the Missourian seems highly qualified to lead the Americans next year. Just days into her captaincy, a learning process is about to set in.

“I’m looking forward to learning more about being captain, and I’m already formulating ideas,” Port said. “Of course, having been a player on the team before, I have some experience. Being a coach, I have some ideas.”

Thanks to her daily commute, the Curtis Cup likely won’t be very far from Port’s mind from now until the first ball is struck.

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