FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – New city, new team, new culture and new country. For Northern Arizona University golfer Sofia Anokhina, the only thing familiar about trekking halfway across the world from her native homeland of Moscow, Russia, to Flagstaff was the game of golf.
Despite the seemingly daunting challenge of getting used to a whole new lifestyle in a place you have never been before, Anokhina maintains it was a relatively easy transition for her.
"The culture change and coming over to America wasn't really that stressful," said Anokhina. "Honestly, I was really excited until the minute I got on the plane. Then I realized that I was going to a different part of the world, and it felt weird because I had never made such long trips before. It was hard, but I really liked it and wasn't afraid of the change."
That fearlessness sure reflects itself in her golf game, as well. Anokhina, who began to seriously take up golf at the age of 13, has excelled ever since picking up a club. In fact, as a freshman last year at NAU, she recorded the third-best round scoring average in program history at a 75.43 clip.
Golf wasn't always the plan, though, for the Lumberjack sophomore, as she tried her hand in a number of different activities that included everything from ballet to painting to gymnastics and modeling.
"Honestly, I participated in a lot of activities when I was young," said Anokhina. "I couldn't really choose which one I wanted to do. At one point, I wanted to be a professional ballroom dancer, and I really didn't even think about golf."
And, if not for her male counterparts, she likely would have pursued ballroom dancing further, leaving little chance for golf.
"I started to grow really fast, and I couldn't find a partner tall enough for me," she says laughing. "So I had to stop dancing, which made me really sad. After that, though, I realized I can still play golf because I know how to play and I've played it before. Once I won my first tournament, I was like, 'yeah, I think I should keep up with this.'"
It was a good thing, too, that Anokhina traded in her gowns for golf clubs because this past fall, she received the distinguished opportunity to represent Russia at the World Amateur Team Championships in Cancun, Mexico.
At the four-round tournament, Anokhina competed against 162 of the finest and well-polished amateur golf athletes from around the world, finishing in a tie for 70th with an impressive 17-over-par 305 mark.
Still, despite her individual successes, Anokhina says the experience of being able to wear the Russian colors and represent her country at a major amateur championship was joyfully overwhelming and something she will never forget.
"I know it is hard to explain that Russian golf is not that great, and we probably have to develop and grow," Anokhina continues, "but it's still a newborn sport in my country, and I was very proud to represent that team. I had this very proud feeling when I was holding my flag and walking in during the opening ceremony. I had the Russian flag on my clothes as well, and it's a good feeling that when people ask me where I'm from, I can tell them, 'yeah, I'm from Russia, and I can play golf.' I'm really, really proud of it."
Anokhina accredits much of her improvement as a golfer over the last year and a half to the work NAU Head Coach Brad Bedortha and Graduate Assistant Coach Langley Vannoy have put in and the mindset they have instilled within Anokhina and all of the players.
In fact, Anokhina went as far to say she has learned more about the game of golf as a Lumberjack and from Coach Bedortha than her previous 17 years of experience with the game. With that kind of confidence, you can bet she carried those lessons with her to Mexico.
"Everything Coach Bedortha has taught me for the past year was very helpful at [the World Amateur Team Championships]," says Anokhina. "It was great to see the outcome and the product of what we've been working on for the last year as a team. I knew what I was doing and why I was playing a certain way for the first time in my life, and it was amazing to be that deep into the game of golf."
To her credit, Anokhina has always had the raw talent. Now, with the help and guidance from Coach Bedortha and Coach Vannoy, as well as the lessons she picks up from her teammates, the golf star from Russia is paving her own path here on the mountain.
As it appears, Anokhina certainly has found herself in the right place at the right time.