Looking into the distance with a relentless stare, she holds her club steadily with a perfect posture. Examining the almost 200 yards of grass in front her, she calculates the exact distance from the tee to the hole in a determined fashion. She looks down and back up to re-examine her field of play.
She repeats this in a practiced manner.
In a swift and fluid motion, the swing is created. A thunderous strike to the ball sails it into the blue skies of the Sedona Golf Resort, but the ball hangs a bit higher than intended.
Northern Arizona Lumberjacks golfer Sofia Anokhina stares down her ball as it carries through the air. It lands about 30 yards away from the hole on a par 4. With a slight, approving smile and congratulations from her teammates, she gathers her golf bag and begins marching to her destination.
The 19-year-old sophomore from Russia was coming off her best performance of the year, winning the Red Rocks Invitational in Sedona with a three-round total of 12-under-par 204 in March. She played the best 54-hole score in school history, destroying the previous record by 11 strokes and setting the greatest single-round score in program history by tallying a 7-under 67 during the last round.
Anokhina was in total control of that tournament, and her entire season. She was crowned Big Sky’s Golfer of the Year for her performance and won the Big Sky Conference Championship to cap off her college season. The success carried over after the collegiate season to the 2017 Austrian International Ladies Amateur Championship, securing a second-place finish at the end of May and a second consecutive Russian Amateur Championship at the end of June.
“Everything is pretty much unpredictable, which is really nice about (golf), and I feel like once I started realizing how it’s not a game of being perfect, I actually started enjoying the challenges and what they would bring me every single time,” said Anokhina as she continued marching from hole to hole during one of her more relaxed practices. “I started appreciating the misses, too.”
She was crowned the winner of the Sacramento State Invitational with a 3-under-par 141 performance on March 22. Averaging a score of 70.62, an average round score of 73.25 for the best in Lumberjacks history and breaking the school record for wins in a season at four were just some of the benefits of adjusting to a new mentality and the physical aspects of Anokhina’s game.
Lumberjacks head coach Brad Bedortha knows that all eight of the players on the team possess the skill, work ethic and experience to be great players, but his relationship with Anokhina is a tad different.
“First and foremost, I love the girl to death. We have such a great relationship,” Bedortha said. “And two, without even knowing it, she pushes me to be a better coach and a better person just by who she is.”
LIVING IN A NEW LAND
As a student from Russia, Anokhina has been exposed to the multicultural aspects of the United States and at NAU that have made her appreciate the personalities of people she has met.
Even as a Russian exchange student, during a time in which the political environment has seemed hostile toward the relationship between the U.S. and Russia, Anokhina has stayed true to herself and kept her focus on golf.
“What I love the most about this country is that everyone is equal, and everyone is mature enough not to show off … however, back home I don’t feel this way and I think it’s very sad,” Anokhina said. “Personality traits here are much more valuable here than where I’m from, across the other side of the world.”
The world of politics has not affected her views toward the U.S. In fact, she expressed that her lack of political beliefs has made it easier for her to appreciate her time at NAU.
Anokhina explained that she does not believe that politics has a direct effect on her life, and as long as it does not, she would not get involved with it.
Living with a visa card in order to attend NAU during the school year, Anokhina has learned to prioritize her school life while at the same time dominating in golf this year. Although she has admitted that the game of golf is unpredictable, her mental toughness and focus helped her make history and set new NAU records.
“It seems like it’s so easy, and it’s really not that hard of a game as long as you appreciate literally every single shot,” Anokhina said.
FINDING HER PATH
Encouraged by her grandmother Natalia Kadykova to sample as many aspects of life as possible, Anokhina became a natural at many activities.
“She was trying to incorporate me in many different things like dancing, music, drawing, golf, everything,” Anokhina said.
As a result of her natural competitiveness and will to be great, Anokhina set out early in her life to be the best.
“(My grandmother) was trying to make me involved in as many sports and different types of activities as possible,” Anokhina said. “That’s why I was doing drawing courses, music courses, ballroom dancing, golf, and later on I started doing tennis.”
However, her first experience with golf did not spark the love for the sport that she has today.
In her hometown of Moscow, at the time of her childhood, there was only one nine-hole golf course that was private and predominantly used by adults. With the help of her grandmother, she found a passion away from golf.
“At 7 or 8 years old, I did ballroom dancing because it was the most interesting thing to me,” Anokhina said. “She thought it would be best for me. So I stopped taking music courses, and two times a week was golfing and three times a week was dancing. So golfing was not the major thing until the age of 13.”
Even during her visits back home in Moscow, Anokhina takes time out of her busy schedule to take a class or two for ballroom dancing. Controlling her body adds to her mental strength and displays how far she has come as an athlete.
She proved the ability to overcome obstacles throughout her life even when her ability to play was threatened as a child. As a left-handed golfer, Anokhina was limited due to the lack of left-handed golf clubs available to her, so whenever she did play, she had to adjust to right-handed clubs.
“Her mindset is crazy -- even if she’s in a tough spot, she knows that she can get out from there,” said freshman teammate Loren Skibba.
The determination that Anokhina possesses helped her in the recruiting process and ultimately resulted in her traveling to the U.S. and joining the NAU roster. Although her plan was not originally to come to the U.S. to continue her golf career, Anokhina was persuaded by the lure of California scenes from Hollywood films and adventurous lifestyles.
She contemplated playing for colleges in Europe and even staying in Russia to go to Moscow State University, one of the top universities in the world.
Golf drove her across the big pond.
“I Googled college sports in America and it was really random in early September, Googling a big portion of the information,” Anokhina said.
This resulted in her discovery of a recruitment company for which she completed a scouting form. The company contacted Anokhina a few hours later and she took the time to learn more about American colleges and sports.
“I got an email from a recruiting service and it was Sofia and her information,” Bedortha said. “So I received her information and I kinda thumbed through it, and I’m like, ‘Oh, the girl is from Russia.’"
Bedortha took the initiative, began researching Anokhina and discovered how talented she was.
“She played a lot of national tournaments in Russia, but she also played championships throughout Europe,” Bedortha said.. “She played for the Russia national team, so I could see all of those things. I’m like, 'Wow, this girl is actually good.'"
Set on playing on the West Coast, where Anokhina admired the beautiful weather, she traveled to Arizona to visit NAU. It was a perfect match. Anokhina was able to meet with Coach Bedortha and learned more about the program and soon committed after discovering how great the golf program would be for her.