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September 26, 2013

Ellen Port


PETE KOWALSKI:  Ellen, congratulations, first of all, on your sixth USGA championship victory.  You've joined a list of pretty prominent names like Hollis Stacy.  What does it mean to win another USGA championship to you?
ELLEN PORT:  Well, it means that I outlasted 135 really good golfers, and I think as I've reacquainted myself with some of my professional friends that played on the LPGA Tour, that to win, to play nine matches, to play a lot of rounds and accomplish that and still be standing at the end and then go ahead and seal the deal, it just is a great feeling.  All the work that you put in over the years, I can think of some of the sand shots I hit and how well I played out of the sand this week, and it just kind of is a very rewarding feeling, it's a very fulfilling feeling, and I'm honored to be a USGA champion.
PETE KOWALSKI:  As someone who is a busy high school teacher and golf coach and a mother of two kids, and you have a family life that's important to you, and you don't play a whole lot of competitive golf, how do you win national championships when your schedule is so limited?
ELLEN PORT:¬† Yeah, I just think I rise to the occasion.¬† I know I don't have a lot of opportunities, and so I really want to capitalize on those opportunities.¬† It's a good question.¬† I don't know.¬† I mean, I think it's like, wow.¬† But I am a competitor at heart.¬† I love the thrill of hitting shots when they matter, and I know I did that a few times out there.¬† And I love the spirit of amateurism.¬† I think I'm just a true amateur at heart.¬† I love everything about it, that you can have a well‑rounded life.¬† I've always been that way.¬† I've never specialized really in a sport.¬† It's almost like you can have it all, and I feel like today that's how I feel.

Q.  So the shot we were talking about before you came in was the shot on 11.  Can you just kind of walk us through how that came about?
ELLEN PORT:¬† Well, 11 was my nemesis all week.¬† The first day there was no wind, and I busted it and I had a 9‑iron in my hand and then the wind kicked up.¬† The way the angles line up, I couldn't get myself to bail out left, which I was kicking myself because I hit it in the bunker.¬† I was about three yards from having it perfect.¬† And so then you just have to decide; that's a perfect match‑play scenario.¬† Sue hit a very nice shot up there, and she has a great short game, so I'm thinking she's getting par anyway.
I was on an upslope, and I could have taken my 4H because I actually love hitting that, and I felt like I could have gotten it up close to the green, but the wind was so unpredictable, and I had a big lip in front.
So I just said, let's just take it out there with a‑‑ I don't know what I hit, a 7‑iron or 6‑iron, and hopefully I can wedge it up there.¬† But I hit the lip.¬† I think I didn't hit it very well.¬† And long story short, I took it‑‑ I was into the wind, and I just said, I've got to stick this, and I've been hitting my irons well all week, and Carlos gave me great numbers all week, too.¬† He was so quick at the yardage, there was no doubt.¬† I took a 6‑iron; I was 135 yards away into a two‑club wind and just knocked it down right at the flag.
But that's really probably the highlight and the best part of my game this week was my crisp iron play.  So I really felt confident that I could get it up there close.

Q.  You said your ball contact was the best thing this weekend?
ELLEN PORT:  Yeah, back to Pete's thing, I have to really have quality practice time.  The two things I focused on that I wasn't pleased with after the U.S.Amateur was my iron play, and Andy, my husband, was like, Ellen, that used to be the best part of your game.  So I kind of did my homework.  I figured out why I wasn't hitting them as crisp consistently, worked on that a little bit and always worked on my bunker play because I looked at pictures and saw how much sand was on here.  So those were the two things I worked on coming into this.

Q.¬† Were you surprised at the start that Sue made‑‑
ELLEN PORT:¬† Nothing surprises you, and I think that's one of the reasons I play match play is I just don't get surprised.¬† Nothing will surprise me:¬† Holing it out, a hole‑in‑one, looking like you're going to win a hole.¬† No, I wasn't. ¬†I knew it was her first go‑around, and my goal was to start off really well, and I did; I started hitting the fairways, hitting good shots, and this is the kind of golf course where par is a really good score.
I think getting up‑and‑down on No.2 was really super for me from that bunker.¬† There's another example of a good bunker shot.¬† And then I three‑putted on that kind of‑‑ looked like she might get one back on 3, and she missed the putt.

Q.  Let me take you to a couple other holes besides 11, and if we can just work through them.  6, 9 and 11 were really key par saves.
ELLEN PORT:  Oh, yeah.

Q.  If she was going to have any opening at all, those kind of slammed the door on her.  Take us through 6.

Q.  Where you had that downhill chip that you left short.
ELLEN PORT:¬† Right, that's the par‑5.¬† That's another one where I put myself in a bad spot with the drive and hit a really nice iron shot out of the bunker, and we were in between clubs, and I was in between clubs all‑‑ that was the hardest part was managing the wind and the uphill and how the ball was going to respond, and I pulled it a little bit.
And then I just had that tricky downhill, and the grass grabbed it.¬† I was just barely trying to get it on, and I didn't get it on far enough, and that was a key putt.¬† I felt like I could have birdied 7 and 8, so it was kind of a trade‑off.¬† I didn't make my birdie putts when I put them six, 10 feet, 12 feet, they were lipping out, but the trade‑off was making a key putt on 5.
And then you said 9.¬† 9 was just a hard driving hole for me.¬† Again, I just came off 8, which you have to hit that straight, and 9 just always, if I hit it too far right I'd be blocked by the tree, and then you're kind of thinking, the left comes in pretty quick.¬† I went ahead with a 3‑wood and fanned it out there.¬† Luckily I had confidence that I could hit that up over that tree.¬† Again, it goes back to the confidence in the irons, and I could have hit the middle, and I got it in the bunker and I hit a nice bunker shot.¬† She hit a beautiful shot in.¬† Sue hit a great shot, but that green is really firm, and when I saw it hit the middle of the green I said, That's not going to stay on.¬† So that gave me a little ray of hope, and I made a nice little four‑footer to halve the hole when it looked like she was going to win that.

Q.  And I saw off the 11th tee you were really surprised that that tee shot went into the bunker.
ELLEN PORT:¬† Yeah, like I said, I'd been hitting it really well, and I guess I didn't hit it as well as I thought and there was more wind.¬† But I guess I didn't see it drift right, which what I've been doing.¬† It was at least holding its line.¬† Looking back I was a little mad that I didn't take a 3‑wood and go out to the left bunker.
12, she made a great two‑putt to stay in it there.¬† I thought I might get one back.¬† She didn't make any mistakes.¬† She was pretty consistent, and I had to really pull the reins in a little bit because my adrenaline‑‑ when you're 3‑up with an early lead, I think that might have been my biggest thing that I'm proud of that I didn't let down or I didn't start thinking I'm 3‑up with whatever to go.¬† I think it's really easy to start doing that.¬† I think sometimes it's harder to start off with a three‑hole lead and then kind of see it dwindle.¬† That's a really depressing thing, when you see a lead dwindle, and so that's why 11 was really key.

Q.  You played 14 really well after losing 13 with the three putts.
ELLEN PORT:¬† Yes, 14 was really good.¬† That iron was probably my favorite iron because she hit a nice shot.¬† She was almost ready to get on the green because she didn't hit a good drive.¬† That was another 6‑iron.¬† I'm like, really, I'm hitting a 6‑iron 135 yards downhill.¬† I had to just trust, and that's where Carlos came in with getting the right numbers and knowing my game.¬† He assessed it very quickly, and I kind of carved it.¬† I pictured that shot and pulled it off perfectly, and that's one that almost was a birdie, but I missed that putt.

Q.  How far did you hit your drive on 15?
ELLEN PORT:¬† 15 was good.¬† 15 I had 145 to it.¬† I took a 7‑iron, and I just stomped on it.¬† I had a little tiny downhill, kind of sidehill lie, and I got fortunate there because I hit it a little left, I wanted to be right, and it stayed up on the green, and she made a great birdie there.¬† But yeah, I hit that, I was about 145.¬† And that was another one that I was just glad I made that decision because I could have held back and laid back with a 4H or something, even my 5‑wood.¬† I said, no, I birdied that once.¬† The pin was front.¬† If the pin was back I might have been a little‑‑ although my ball ended up back.¬† I was really happy with that drive.¬† That was a key drive coming down.
And then my putt on the end was not an easy putt, and so I was‑‑ that was a bad iron swing.¬† I kind of left it out.

Q.  You weren't aiming out there?
ELLEN PORT:  No, I was aimed a little left of that, but I was in between clubs, and I knew if I hit it well, and sometimes the wind knocks it down, but I knew you didn't want to land it like she did and it would go over.  So you were in between this, and I think sometimes then you forget to hit it because you're so like, what do I hit, what do I hit.

Q.  Do you hire routinely hire local caddies when you play in a USGA tournament?
ELLEN PORT:¬† Not ‑‑ it varies, it just varies.¬† My husband will caddie for me when I come, but I just know that if you have a good caddie and they do have a local caddie who knows the greens, and this club does, it is an asset.¬† I want a good caddie, and I was laughing that I've won four out of five times that I've been in California.¬† I was like, California has really been good to me, and at the 2000 Mid‑Am I had a young man who was an excellent caddie, and he'd say hit it here and I'd say yes, and confirm.¬† We were usually on the‑‑ if it's a caddie who knows the golf course on the greens, I think it's a huge asset.

Q.¬† How did you connect with‑‑
ELLEN PORT:  Just called and asked for a caddie.  You just call and say I want a club caddie, and I said, Give me a good one.

Q.  Did you say, I'm the defending champion, give me a good one?
ELLEN PORT:  No, I did not, purposely, because I did not want to use that card.  But around here they know.  That's what I said; I'm like, you're kidding, you even know that I'm a defending champion?  The guy emailed and said, yes, we'll get you a caddie, but he said, don't you think it's a little advantage for the defending champion to get a good caddie, and I said, absolutely not.

Q.¬† So then the first day you had‑‑

Q.  Crazy.
ELLEN PORT:¬† Yep, that was my fault.¬† You learn more from your mistakes, and that was my lack of‑‑ it was just a weird situation.

Q.  But you didn't know he had even gotten a ride?
ELLEN PORT:¬† No, and he didn't know, and I was just asking him to get it‑‑ because I'm sure it was wet, and his shoes were waterproof.¬† But long story short, it's a great lesson because you have to take care of business.¬† You have to read everything.¬† You have to be overcautious and careful about communicating.¬† And so for me it's always a wake‑up call because I just do some crazy things sometimes.¬† I'm a reminder that you just never can be too careful and dot your Is and cross your Ts.

Q.¬† So on the 18th you found outabout the ‑‑
ELLEN PORT:  Yeah, before I left the scoring tent, yeah.

Q.  And then what was your conversation with him like after that?
ELLEN PORT:¬† I just was mad at myself because I'm responsible, and I then‑‑ when I thought through the logistics, exactly how it all came down, that I was trying to be courteous by not spiking up the greens and asking him, and the funnies thing, and he was doing what every caddie should do, and that's doing exactly what your player wants you to do, and he was going to get to that parking lot and change those shoes, and if I had known the lay of the land and thought about it, it would have been no way do you have time to go out to the parking lot.
But I had even forgotten I'd asked him to go change his shoes.¬† It's so funny.¬† I'm like, where is he?¬† And so we played, and I had completely forgotten about it because that's the way I am.¬† I get a little‑‑ so anyway, that was kind of a non‑issue, but it really kind of fired me up a little bit to say, you know what, you've got to take responsibility for what you're doing, and you didn't hit the ball well off the tee so go take responsibility and get your game together, you know, because really that shouldn't have been an 80.¬† If I would have hit the ball where I should have, it should have been a 72, and I was probably more mad about my score than that.¬† I was more mad about how I played, put it that way.¬† The caddie thing had nothing to do with it.

Q.¬† Can you change the subject and look ahead to the Curtis Cup?¬† Have you been doing any looking as far as girls that are‑‑ women that are going to be‑‑
ELLEN PORT:¬† Yep, yep, I'm all eyes and all ears.¬† I'm watching every event, the USGA is, and there's so many wonderful players.¬† It's been really fun to pay more attention.¬† I haven't really followed other players.¬† I'm always playing.¬† I'm not usually worried about how everybody else is doing.¬† So it's been really fun to have the role of captain and watch some of these players and start looking for what kind of‑‑ what we're looking for to represent the USGA.

Q.¬† I don't suppose there are any names that you could put out, any‑‑
ELLEN PORT:¬† Well, I really can't at this time, no, but I think everybody‑‑ you go look at the world golf rankings and you go look at who's the top women in the country, amateur players, and they're all in the running, and there's so many‑‑ like I said, I'm already ready to make the team be ten and not eight.¬† I'll let it know that's how I feel, that I'm going to have to leave people off this team that I would love to have on this team.

Q.  People may not know you went to the Walker Cup, though, to look at some details that a captain would look at.
ELLEN PORT:  Yeah, it kind of got me excited.  September has been a crazy month, and I really haven't practiced.  I went to the Walker Cup with my husband and I had a great time and supported them there, and then got a plane the same day I went home and went down to the fall preview and watched some of the top players at the big tournament in Tulsa for two days and then came home and tended to business with my own golf team, which I've deserted for a week, but hopefully they're handling things pretty well with my absence.

Q.¬† And you lost your father‑in‑law; is that right?
ELLEN PORT:¬† Yep, on Monday the 16th, and he had been going a little bit downhill, and we knew it could be any day, and it happened then.¬† You know, he's a great man.¬† He's my inspiration.¬† He's the greatest man I've ever known.¬† My husband's best friend he'll say.¬† So that was hard, and I went back and forth, we just kind of looked at the timing of it, and I said, if we're going to have the funeral in the next three or four days, I'm not going, and if we decide to push it back, then it'll be up to debate whether I go.¬† Kind of the wind was out of my sail, and every morning I'd wake up and talk to Andy about it and say, Honey, I really don't feel like going.¬† And then after he kind of came to peace with Pop being gone and the initial‑‑ he's like, no, you've got to go.¬† We're having this in a week and a half, and you go out and everybody is fine.¬† What are we going to do now?

Q.  When is the funeral?
ELLEN PORT:  Tomorrow.

Q.  This big trophy thing, you keep that for a year?
ELLEN PORT:¬† Get that for a year, uh‑huh.

Q.  Do they ship it for you?
ELLEN PORT:¬† Uh‑huh, they engrave it and they ship it, and then I've got to keep it clean.

Q.  Do you drink out of it?
ELLEN PORT:  I might this one.  I think we're going to have a party and I might drink out of it.  It's usually filled with candy.  That's usually what I do.

Q.  You did have a birthday?
ELLEN PORT:¬† I had a birthday while I was out here.¬† This is really ‑‑ the Mid‑Am, I won the Mid‑Am in 2011 over my birthday, and then had my birthday here, so it was really a great week, mixed week I should say.¬† But it's a great thing to win because that would have meant‑‑ that's what Andy wanted me to do, and that's what Pop would have wanted me to do.

Q.  What day was your birthday?
ELLEN PORT:  21st of September, 52.

Q.  And the 52nd Senior Women's Amateur.
ELLEN PORT:  Oh, that kind of has a nice ring.

Q.¬† You said your father‑in‑law was one of the greatest men you've ever known.

Q.  What were one or two things that maybe you picked up from him over the years about anything?
ELLEN PORT:  Serve others.  He was a giver.  And use your talents to God's glory, and that's what he did.  Yep.

Q.  Is he a golfer?
ELLEN PORT:  He isn't.  He is not a golfer, no.  But man, he wouldn't let me get away with anything.  I'd come home and go tell him and I'd hem and haw about how I got in my own way, and he'd say, well, why did you do that?  You need to quit doing that.  I'm like, it's not that easy, Pop.  You've never played golf.  I don't care.  You need to quit doing that.  You need to go win.  He was just a very simple, humble man, very humble man.
PETE KOWALSKI:¬† Fourth on the all‑time win list at the USGA.¬† That's got to be something you hang your hat on.
ELLEN PORT:  Yeah, but I don't put myself up at their level because they're the greatest in the game at their level.  But I'm very blessed in what I've been able to accomplish in a short time, and I'm thrilled.
PETE KOWALSKI:  Congratulations.

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