Golf is definitely not the national sport of Russia, Vera Markevich says with a laugh.
“We probably have like 20 golf courses around the whole of Russia,” Markevich said. “But the biggest problem is we can’t play during the winter because of the weather.”
So what is a young girl in Moscow with ambitions of playing professional golf to do?
“The only place where you can probably be the best is America,” said Markevich, a senior at Xavier Prep in Palm Desert and the top player on the Saints girls’ golf team. “So we completely accidentally found a place in Palm Desert. Our friends helped us to find this place, so here I am.”
Markevich, the defending Desert Valley League girls’ golf individual champion, is starting her fourth year at Xavier Prep after spending half a year of eighth grade at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Palm Desert. In many ways, Markevich, who turns 17 in October, seems like a typical American high school student, celebrating getting her driver’s license earlier this month and enjoying trips to the beach in San Diego. But she remains very much a part of the burgeoning golf scene in her native Russia.
Next week, Markevich will not be with her Xavier teammates for DVL play. Instead, she will travel to Riviera Maya, Mexico to be part of the Russian national team playing in the World Amateur Team Championships.
“I hope I will do well there, because it’s a huge tournament,” Markevich says in perfect English. “Probably everyone wants to play there.”
The trip to Mexico will extend Markevich’s travels around the world to play golf.
“Actually I used to live in Spain for almost a year because I practiced golf there before I came to America,” she said. “It was awesome. But I have been to many places, Germany, France. I have played a lot of tournaments there.”
Markevich’s resume includes events like the 2014 European Ladies Open and the European Young Masters also in 2014. But the goal for Markevich was getting to the United States for a chance to work on her game and become the best player she can be, she said. Toward that goal she is working with teachers Bryan Lebedevitch and Josh Myers at PGA West Golf Academy in La Quinta when she isn’t going to school or playing in a match with her Xavier Prep teammates. Both Lebedevich and Meyers have worked with several LPGA players, including Cristie Kerr and Mirim Lee.“
“Whatever she is working on with Brian or Josh, I ask her what she is working on and I try to make sure I am the eyes they can’t be when she is away from them,” said Debbi Koyama, the head golf coach at Xavier Prep. “I do try to offer advice sometimes if she needs it as to what might be better to do around certain kinds of shots.”
Koyama, herself an all-American when she played at UCLA, sees a college future for Markevich.
“She is good enough to play,” Koyama said. “Division I golf at the top level? That’s up to her. The girls at the top, they play junior golf tournaments, week in week out. She doesn’t do that because she’s not here in the summer and she is not here in the winter. And that probably makes it just a little bit harder for the coaches to see here.”
For all the high-powered teaching and the opportunities with the Russian national team, Markevich remains devoted to her high school team.
“First of all, I really like my team. I think it is amazing to be a part of the team, especially in such a good environment as Xavier’s golf team,” she said. “Besides that, I think that we play so many matches, like twice a week matches and we play tournaments. It is really good for your competitive game. It helps you to prepare mentally and physically for bigger tournaments, like the World Championship I am going to.”
Markevich, in the United States on a student visa, returns to Russia each summer to spend time with her family and even take a summer family trip to Cyprus. This summer, during her annual trip home, she found time to finish second in the Russian Amateur Championship.
“Definitely for Russia it is a new sport,” Markevich said. “I don’t think that it is as developed as it could be. But we are really proud of our Russian players who played in the Olympics, Maria Verchenova. She did amazing since she is coming from Russia. And because she played for Russia, it is a great achievement for her as well as for us.”
It is the distance from her family in Russia that is the toughest part of living in the United States for Markevich. She has spent nearly five years living away from her family most of the year pursuing her golf dreams.
“It can get hard at times, when I am struggling with something like I played a bad round of golf maybe, something like that,” Markevich said. “Then I’m like, ‘Oh, I want to call my mom’ and stuff like that. But I got used to it. And I have a personality where I can be by my own and that helps in that situation.”
Other than not being near her family, Markevich says she’s enjoying life in the United States and California. She lives in La Quinta with Jim and Rev. Elizabeth Stilwell, who have taken in foreign students at Xavier before.
“They are really helpful. They always make sure that I am safe. And they have been great. There were able to drive me to my tournaments and were just really supportive of my game and my schooling,” Markevich said. “To be honest, I really like California. Anywhere in California I like. I love California. I think it is an amazing place for living and for golf.”
Koyama agrees that Markevich’s personality allows her to get through tough situations on her own.
“She is a perfectionist. She’s hard on herself to a point. But she has limitations to that,” Koyama said. “She is very good at getting mad and forgetting about it, letting it go. She doesn’t dwell on it. A lot of people when they make a mistake, you see them out on the golf course and their head is down. She doesn’t seem to do that. She just gets it out and she is OK. She is very positive.”
As a senior, Markevich says she’s excited about getting the most out of her last year in high school and on the Saints team. And she is looking to the future and her chance to stay in the United State to keep working on her education and her golf. She admits to have a dream of college, but would like to play golf anywhere.
“I definitely want to play college golf. I think it is going to be really helpful,” she said. “I think I can bring a lot of good things into a team as well as I can learn a lot of things from the team. But after college I’m definitely going to try to play professional golf, the LPGA Tour.”