Age doesn't slow six-time women's amateur champion

Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | 8:31 p.m. CDT; updated 11:50 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 14, 2009

COLUMBIA — Ellen Port lines up her shot on the 18th hole. Her tee shot put her 100 yards from the hole, but the wind and height of the green make a wedge shot inadequate. She pulls out her 8-iron and addresses the ball after her threesome partners hit their balls 15 and 30 feet from the pin. Port takes a full swing, and the ball comes off the iron with a velocity that makes those standing behind the green wince, fearing they might be hit.

Halfway through the ball’s trajectory, it heels, catching backspin and dives towards the center of the green. The ball comes down and bounces a putter’s head length to the left of the cup. It seemingly spins in place on the green for a moment before it bounces nearly straight up, back into the air. It catches the putting surface again and spins a few inches to within three feet of the hole.

Women's Amateur Championship Leaderboard-Round One

1. Chelsea Schriewer - St. Charles - 71 (-1)

2. Alisha Matthews - St. Louis - 72 (E)

3. Kelsey Meyer - Chesterfield - 75 (+3)

T4. Katrina Choate - Fenton - 76 (+4)

T4. Ellen Port - St. Louis - 76 (+4)

T6. Mary Kate Bird - Kansas City - 78 (+6)

T6. Kristen Hamel - Chesterfield - 78 (+6)

T6. Jennifer Holt - Lake Ozark - 78 (+6)

T6. Morgan Lamberson - Marshall - 78 (+6)

T10. Mindy Bullard - Columbia - 80 (+8)

T10. Tina Jones - Wildwood - 80 (+8)

T10. Hanule "Sky" Seo - Chesterfield - 80 (+8)

T10. Naomi Starr - Columbia - 80 (+8)

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Port taps the putt in, finishing with a 76 for the round, after her playing partners Hanule Seo and Madison Marcolla complement her shot. Port, from St. Louis, is a six-time winner of the Missouri Women’s Golf Association’s Amateur Championship and is in contention for her seventh title.

After the first round of tournament play at The Club at Old Hawthorne, Port is five shots back of leader Chelsea Schriewer, the defending champion. Schriewer, who finished her senior year at MU in May, was the only competitor to break par with her first-round 71 despite having her round was interrupted by a rain delay on the third hole.

With shots like her birdie on the 18th hole, the fact that Port is almost 30 years older than her closest competition means little.

“At 47 and teeing it up and keeping up, that keeps me going," Port said after her round.

Port didn't start playing golf until she was 24, when she would go out with her husband and hit balls at the driving range.

"I didn't think much of it until someone came up to me and said, you might be good at this," Port said.

Six Missouri amateur championships, and two appearances in the Curtis Cup, the international competition for women's amateur golf, someone was right. Even now, as a mother of two, Port has scaled back her competitive schedule, but still loves to compete.

"Now I am only playing two or three tournaments in a year since the birth of my first child in 1997. It's a challenge to stay sharp," Port said. "It would be great to win (title No. 7), I love to win, and every number (of championships) is a good number."

Port says at 47 her focus on the game comes and goes, but she finds joy in playing with women who are playing winning golf at such a young age.

"I love to see young kids do so well and develop their game," Port said. "I love how much they understand at such a young age."

As thunderstorms rolled through central Missouri on Tuesday morning, lightning strikes forced the MWGA and the staff at The Club at Old Hawthorne to suspend play around 8:30 a.m. Competition resumed at 11 am, after the course had adequate time to drain.

Travis McCubbin, the head golf professional at The Club at Old Hawthorne, was impressed with the way the 2-year-old course held up in the heavy rains.

“A few spots will hold water, but the slope within the greens and the right type of sand base helps all that water run off,” McCubbin said. “It took a little work to get it back, but it being a new course, it drains extremely easy.”

The leader, Schriewer, said she thought the rain didn’t affect her score.

“The course played well. It’s not too tough, but the rain added a challenge as it made the course longer,” Schriewer said.

Schriewer only missed two greens in regulation Tuesday and said that was the reason she was the leader. Still, Schriewer said a 71 was a worse case scenario for her.

“I went and worked on my putting afterwards,” she said. "My ball striking was pretty good, but if I would have made some one-putts, I could have shot 4 or 5-under-par."

Schriewer was the first to tee off on Tuesday in a pair with Alisha Matthews, who is from St. Louis and plays golf at the University of Southern Illinois. Matthews shot an even-par 72, and is one shot behind Schriewer.

Wednesday’s forecast shows a chance of thunderstorms, but McCubbin said he isn’t concerned.

“If there is no lightning, the will play. The course can handle it,” McCubbin said. “This is the Women’s Amateur Championship, I think they all have rainsuits.”

Port, who lost a five-stroke lead in the final round last year to Schriewer, says that she can reverse the roles from last season if she can fall back into a routine and gain confidence in her play.

"The key to golf is minimizing your mistakes and maximizing your good shots," Port said. "If I play the way I can play, I can compete with anyone."

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