Tiger’s niece is slowly stepping out of the shadows of Woods
DUBAI // He was one of the first to pick up the phone. Not long after Cheyenne Woods had secured LPGA Tour status on Sunday, she received congratulations from the most famous golfer on the planet. He was simply fulfilling his role as doting uncle.
“It was just after my parents,” said Woods on Tuesday, ahead of her debut at this week’s Omega Dubai Ladies Masters. “He calls quite often, anyway.”
The association is obvious, but it has become quite laboured, too. Being niece to Tiger Woods undoubtedly has its advantages – as such, Cheyenne is a marketable, marquee name in Dubai – yet it carries certain pitfalls.
Expectations can sometimes prove overinflated and subsequently overwhelming, as they have at times for Cheyenne, who scraped and scrapped, without success, to earn playing privileges on the biggest stage in women’s golf.
Previous attempts at Qualifying School, twice in the past two years, ended in disappointment. So Sunday’s joint-11th finish at Q-School finals Daytona Beach, Florida, felt not only liberating, but legitimising, as well.
Irrespective of family or second-hand fame, Woods went out and grabbed it, all by herself. At 24, she becomes a bona fide 2015 LPGA Tour member. Talent, not an inextricable link to Tiger, prevailed.
“They don’t hand those cards out to just anybody,” she said. “I knew that eventually, I would make it to the LPGA. It was just a matter of what it took to get there.”
The answer was a few years of toil. Having honed her game at Wake Forest University, Woods turned professional in the spring of 2013, crossed the pond and took residence on the Ladies European Tour (LET).
In 11 tournaments, she made eight cuts and finished joint-12th in Morocco to register her best result. Then, in February this year, Woods broke through with a two-stroke victory at the Australian Ladies Masters. But then the grind began again.
After playing on the Symetra Tour, a less-celebrated developmental pathway to the LPGA, Woods finally secured her pass to the big time with a rollercoaster ride across Q-School. Starting Sunday in a tie for 32nd, she posted a 2-under 70 to climb inside the top 20 and claim full LPGA membership for 2015. If the ascent was arduous, it makes the view from the summit all the more sweet.
“I definitely worked to get there, went through every stage possible,” Woods said. “So I’d say it’s a little bit of validation, just to know that I’ve earned my stripes. It’s been a long road, but it feels good to finally have achieved that.”
Earning stripes: an inadvertent Tiger reference, but then, it is a difficult connection to shake.
Cheyenne’s father, Earl Woods Jr, is the estranged half-brother of Tiger.
Tiger’s late father, also named Earl, had a family before he eventually divorced and met the future world No 1’s mother, Kultida. Tiger mostly distanced himself from Cheyenne’s side of the family years ago, though he has helped her when possible and was believed to be instrumental in her landing an endorsement deal with his equipment company.
Rather wisely, Cheyenne tries not to draw comparisons to her uncle, 38. After all, the two may share a surname, but they constitute very different beasts.
Her uncle’s success has been built on his focus and intensity, Cheyenne says, while she is much more laid-back – something that was instantly apparent when she arrived at Emirates Golf Club yesterday.
However, similarities do exist. Ask Woods, a modest No 232 in the women’s world rankings, about her goals and they sound eerily familiar.
“To have a successful career, to be a champion, to be No 1 in the world,” she said.
“I mean, that’s what people come out here to do. No one wants to play to be second.”
She has been resolutely patient to get to this position, helped in small part by her uncle’s encouragement to trust in her ability, and that she should believe she possesses the talent to compete at the top.
“That’s always No 1,” she said. “I’ve always kept that in my head.”
Given her rise to the main tour, and her background and bloodline, Woods anticipates attracting a disproportionate share of the spotlight next year.
“Growing up with Woods as a last name has prepared me for that,” said the Phoenix native, who has a degree in communications. “I’ve been dealing with the media since I was 10 years old.”
Hopefully, Sunday’s success means Woods can now carve a reputation in her own right.
“I don’t feel I need to validate anything for anybody,” she said. “It’s just me and I’m trying to accomplish my goals and have my own career. This is what I’ve always wanted to do, since I was five years old.”
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Updated: December 9, 2014 04:00 AM