The Ukrainian Girl Adopted by PGA Teaching Pro Now Thriving at Texas A&M Commerce
Editor’s note: Because Purpose2Play has been telling the stories of athletes, coaches, and fans for more than three years, we figure it’s about time to catch up with some of them to find out where they are now. As you’ll see, they’re still inspiring others and making the world a better place to live in.
Where Are They Now? Catching Up with Joey and Anya Anders (“Jordan Spieth’s First Golf Coach Does the Right Thing From the Links to Ukraine,” July 18, 2014)
A few years back, we told you the story of Joey Anders, a PGA teaching pro, Jordan’s Spieth’s first golf coach, and a guy who likes to do the right thing. Although Joey and his wife, Cecilie, already had four kids of their own, they fostered and ultimately, adopted a teenage girl from the Ukraine named Anya, who had spent the bulk of her life in an orphanage.
It was a rough go at first, on all kinds of levels. Money was tight. The house they had was too small. Anya had a tough time adapting to her new world, new language and being part of a real family. Until she discovered a natural talent—and love—for golf.
At the end of our first story, Anya was in high school and for the first time in her life, she had hopes for the future. All good. But, then, what happened?
We checked back in to find out.
The Road to Texas A&M Commerce
Today, Anya is junior at Texas A&M Commerce, a leader on the golf team, and a student who maintains an enviable GPA. But, don’t think for a moment that getting from being a high schooler with a dream to a player for an up-and-coming collegiate golf program was an easy path.
“After high school, Anya went to junior college and really had problems that first year. She hadn’t been speaking English all that long, so any class requiring reading and comprehension was a struggle for her,” Joey Anders said. “When you think about it, you need reading and comprehension for just about every subject but math and athletics.”
The problem was never her work ethic.
“It’s not like she didn’t try or apply herself. She worked as hard as a person could work, but she had a difficult time making good grades,” Anders said. “So, she took a year off from school, moved home, and took classes at a local college to catch up on the basic skills that were holding her back. She also worked full-time at the golf course, and spent any off-hours improving her own game. ”
Nothing came easy, and that was frustrating.
“Anytime she got down on herself, we tried to refocus her, to let her know that, with hard work, she’d eventually get where she wanted to go,” Anders said. “I guess the best way to put it is, we kept her focused on the destination—what she wanted to do in life—instead of every obstacle along the way preventing her from getting there.”
The next year, Anya transferred to Tyler Junior College and started to blossom. Her grades improved substantially, as did her presence on the golf team. Bit by bit, she was starting to see her hard work pay off.
“Part of the change was that she had grown up; she’d been to college, so she knew what to expect,” Anders said. “She also had a great golf coach who brought out the best in her, which made a big difference.”
A New Coach. A New Culture.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M Commerce had hired an enthusiastic new head golf coach with a seven-year track record of running successful programs. His name was Tyler Schiffelbein, aka “Coach Tyler,” a high-energy guy who believed that building the right team culture was the key to success.
He had five “great kids” on the returning roster, but needed two new players to join the veterans. His goal? Find players with the right mindset and the right heart.
“For me, scores are only part of it. Of course, we need kids who can play golf at a certain level. But, we need kids with the right attitude—who want to be part of a team and a program; and who recognize the opportunity they’ve been given,” Tyler Schiffelbein said. “There are a lot of good golfers who also have a sense of entitlement out there. If you recruit those players, you won’t do anything to advance your program or strengthen your team.”
When he sat down with Anya, he knew she was just the kind of recruit he’d been looking for.
“A lot of times, recruiting conversations are all about ‘what will you give me if I come to your school.’ Anya was different. She asked about my coaching style and my goals for the program. It was obvious that she’d done her research,” he said. “I got the sense that she was more concerned with finding a place where she could grow and contribute to a team than what she could get for free. That was a refreshing change.”
Schiffelhein recruited Anya without ever watching her hit a golf ball. Anya, with Joey by her side, accepted, without ever visiting the Texas A&M Commerce campus. Sometimes, things are just “right.”
Winning—on Multiple Levels
In the year that Coach Tyler has been with Texas A&M Commerce, the women’s golf team has completely turned around. Not only did the team win the first tournament in the school’s history, but they went from their previous 119th ranking to 38th in the country.
“I’m so proud of all of our girls, they’ve worked so hard,” Schiffelhein said. “They’re working together, they’re supporting each other, and they now go into every tournament expecting to win. That wasn’t happening before.”
Anya continues to impress him, both on and off the course.
“This is a girl who didn’t speak English five years ago. Today, she has an above-3.0 GPA, is an honor student and she’s a team leader,” Schiffelhein said. “No question, Anya has a God-given talent for golf, but she knows that no one is going to give her anything, and she’s okay with that. She’s willing to work hard to get to where she wants to go.”
The past few years have been pretty good for the Anders family as a whole. The kids are growing, and Joey Anders continues to gain national recognition as a golf instructor, coach and pro.
Anders was recently was named a U.S. Kids Top 50 golf instructor for the fifth year in a row, which earned him a coveted Master Instructor designation. Fifteen of the kids he instructs went to State, with numerous individual and team wins. And his long-time student, Julia Gregg, continues her golf trajectory, already catching college recruiters’ eyes, though she’s only a sophomore in high school.
But, as much as he loves his career, if you ask Joey what his biggest accomplishment of the past few years has been, he doesn’t talk about work. He talks about Anya.
“Even when she was doing well in junior college, Anya never really smiled. She was happy, but never 100 percent happy, “ he said. “Anya smiles now. Really smiles. She’s more confident, she’s doing great at school and she is excited about the future. Nothing I could accomplish at work is better than seeing Anya find her place and be so happy there.”
I asked Joey to think back about his own family’s journey—the decision to adopt, the struggles, and how far they’ve come.
“The more I look back, the more I am sure that the whole adoption was completely God driven. It was one of the first times in my life when I knew that something had to be done; that there was no way to walk away. That all of the reasons why we thought we couldn’t do it—that we didn’t make enough money, didn’t have a big enough house—none of that really mattered,” Anders said. “We somehow knew that God was going to help us find a way, if we did what we needed to do. And He did.”
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