Boyette: Russian golfer Sofia Anokhina fulfills her Augusta National dream
The moment was every bit as spontaneous as Jack Nicklaus raising his putter in the 1986 Masters Tournament or Tiger Woods celebrating with his caddie in 2005 after chipping in at the 16th.
Sofia Anokhina made her birdie putt at the 18th hole. Moments later, after exchanging hugs with her playing partners, she ran off the green, ducked under the ropes and jumped into the arms of her boyfriend.
Making the cut Thursday in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and being among the 30 who will play the final round Saturday at Augusta National will do that to a person. This was the type of moment Augusta National officials envisioned when they created the event.
Anokhina’s moment occurred shortly after 2:30 p.m. Then she had to wait a couple more hours as the field completed play. As it turned out, the Russian golfer was in an 11-player playoff for 10 spots.
Anokhina aced the first playoff test, the 10th at Champions Retreat Golf Club, with an airtight par.
When Alessia Nobilio in the second playoff group made bogey, she was in.
Anokhina, a senior at Arizona State, was not listed among the favorites coming into this inaugural event. She had the lowest rank of any player in the field and got in through a special invitation from the tournament committee.
After 5-over 77 on Wednesday, Anokhina knew she needed a good round Thursday to have a chance. She was plodding along at 1 over through five holes when her lucky charm showed up.
Boyfriend Johnny Walker, a hockey player at Arizona State, arrived Thursday morning.
“I met her on the sixth hole, she parred and on the seventh hole she sank a 50-foot eagle putt,” Walker said. “I couldn’t be more excited.”
Anokhina said Walker’s hockey number is 7.
“Every time I get on hole No. 7, I’m like, hole 7’s just got to be lucky for me,” she said. “He told me that’s a drivable hole. He’s like, ‘Eagle it.’ And a hole later, I’m eagling it. I’m like, OK.
“It’s exciting to have my coach here and exciting to have my sweetheart here, too, supporting. It’s really cool.”
Anyone who has spoken with Anokhina this week can’t help but be impressed with her contagious enthusiasm. Considering she comes from a country with not much golf history, it’s impressive that she has made it this far. Her parents didn’t want her to come to the United States to play golf because of the distance.
“I wanted to go to California because California looked pretty in the movies,” she said. “That was my biggest reason at 17 years old.”
She transferred to Arizona State after three years at Northern Arizona, where she was the Big Sky Conference golfer of the year in 2017.
Last year, when she found out Augusta National had created the women’s amateur, she immediately set her sights on Augusta and texted her coach.
“For all the female golfers, it’s a huge step forward,” she said. “It’s a huge honor really. A lifetime opportunity.”
Her boyfriend said that it meant a lot for her to receive the invitation.
“She got the call and when she called me, she couldn’t even tell me she was crying so hard,” Walker said. “I’m so proud of her.”
It all boiled down to one hole for Anokhina. After making a bogey at the 17th to fall to 4 over for the tournament, she needed birdie to have a chance.
After a good drive he had a 3-hybrid into the green. The second shot came up just short on the par-5 hole. Instead of chipping, she decided to use her putter from off the green. It left her with about a six-foot birdie putt.
“I couldn’t figure out the break, but when you can’t figure out the break, you’re like, just play it straight and really hard, so I went with that,” she said. “As simple as it sounds.”
The putt went in, and Anokhina celebrated. Now she gets to compete on the most recognizable stage in golf.
“I wasn’t really that interested in what’s going on outside of my world which is Sofia World, and within Russia,” she said of her earliest memories of Augusta National. “When I heard about the Masters, that was pretty cool and when I heard about the big names, I thought that’s awesome. I started watching it and I thought that looks like the most perfect, excellent golf course out there. Because until you really get in there, you can’t really imagine what it’s like.”