On Wednesday morning, senior amateur golfer Ellen Fuson Port had the chance to play a practice round with World Golf Hall of Famer Pat Bradley. Thursday morning, she’ll tee off at the same time as four-time LPGA major championship winner Hollis Stacy.
It's all part and parcel of playing in a major USGA national championship, as Port, 56, will compete in the inaugural 2018 U.S. Senior Women’s Open this weekend at Chicago Golf Club.
"It feels great. I'm thrilled for the old girls that are older than me, that have invested their whole life in golf professionally,” Port told The Star on Tuesday. “And I'm also thrilled for my own amateur friends who get to tee it off in an open competition with some of the all time great players."
An amateur golfer who grew up in North Kansas City before graduating from the University of Missouri and moving to St. Louis, Port has already won seven USGA championships.
That kind of record puts her in the company of Tiger Woods (9) and JoAnne Gunderson Carner (8), who will also be competing alongside Port this weekend.
When Port tees off at 7 a.m. on Thursday, she’ll become part of history as one of the first women golfers to tee off in a competitive women’s USGA event at Chicago Golf Club since 1903.
Teddy Roosevelt was president that year, Judge Himes was the winner of the Kentucky Derby, and the Boston Americans won the first-ever World Series in the modern era.
Chicago Golf Club is trying to keep the spirit of the 1900s alive within itself too. The clubhouse and locker rooms have barely changed in the past century, there are no tee markers on the golf course and cellphones have to remain outside the golf club.
“I think we're so glad that it's finally here, but for these other girls — 20 years, 30 years ago — we wished,” Port said.
Port will tee off on the 10th hole on Thursday morning alongside lifelong friend Martha Leach, who is the sister of Stacy. Stacy will coincidentally tee off on Hole 1 at the same time as Port.
Port doesn’t expect to emerge victorious on Sunday, but she certainly wishes to use her own experiences of winning championships and her background in coaching to her advantage. She spent 32 years coaching golf at John Burroughs High School in St. Louis before spending three years coaching at Washington University in St. Louis.
Having recently left Washington’s coaching staff in order to spend more time with her family, Port has had the chance to practice more this past week than she has in the last couple of years.
“You just have to practice what you preach,” Port said. “It's a really hard game, I think people get too high of expectations and I think everything is about staying in the moment and committing to the shot, and trusting yourself. Those are the basics.
“It really is a special time, and everyone keeps reminding me to have fun and enjoy it,” she continued. “And I think I'm getting to the point where I can still want to play really well, or be in the hunt, but still have fun. I don't think they're mutually exclusive, so I'm trying to have the best of both worlds.”