Cheyenne Woods shooting toward golf stardom
In the mostly anonymous world of college golf, the winner of the women's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament typically would earn little more than passing mention in local newspapers -- if that.
But not if the name of the champion happens to be Cheyenne Woods.
When Woods won the ACC title last month, it was an event blogged 'round the world. At 20, and just wrapping up her junior year at Wake Forest, the niece of Tiger Woods is already an international phenomenon.
"When we went to Japan last year, there must have been 150 photographers following her around,'' Demon Deacons coach Dianne Dailey said. "Her whole round was on TV that night. They weren't following the Japanese; they were following her.''
None of it surprises Cheyenne, who long ago accepted that fame would stalk her as it does her famous uncle. Yet it doesn't rattle her. Whatever comparisons and expectations come with owning that name, Cheyenne has learned not to let it elevate or subjugate her.
"I guess I've just found a way to deal with it,'' she said, in a recent telephone interview. "I just have to play my own game and not think about Tiger Woods.
"There's really only one Tiger Woods, so it's hard for me to compare myself or have other people compare me.''
Yet those comparisons are inevitable -- all the way down to that striking resemblance to her uncle. Cheyenne's father is Earl Woods Jr., Tiger's older half-brother.
I guess I've just found a way to deal with it. I just have to play my own game and not think about Tiger Woods. There's really only one Tiger Woods, so it's hard for me to compare myself or have other people compare me.Cheyenne Woods, who long ago accepted that fame would stalk her as it does her famous uncle
Tiger and Earl Jr. share Earl Woods Sr. as a father. And like Tiger, Cheyenne had Earl Sr. as one of her childhood coaches.
Of course, Cheyenne doesn't have Tiger's game, although the joke after the ACC championship was that at least one Woods could still win a title these days.
Her game is coming, though. Capturing the ACC was a breakthrough for her, winning by 7 strokes.
"I felt very accomplished,'' she said. "Going into the tournament, even the week before the tournament, I had this mindset that I did want to win. I knew my game was ready and I was capable of winning and then it's up to me to pull through and make it happen. When I won by 7 shots, it just felt really good to have that accomplishment and know that I can do anything I set my mind to.''
Among the first to congratulate her was her uncle Tiger, who tweeted, "My niece, Cheyenne, just won the ACC golf title by 7 shots! That's awesome. I'm so proud of her.''
Cheyenne followed with a fifth-place showing in the NCAA Central Regional tournament in South Bend, Ind., helping Wake Forest qualify for the NCAA national tournament in Bryan, Texas, which begins Wednesday.
"I think she's coming into her own as a player,'' Dailey said. "She always had a pretty good swing. I think now, her putting has gotten so much better. Her short game is really good. Her overall swing has gotten a lot more consistent. She has developed a lot of mental toughness. I think, before, she might have had a little trouble closing the deal at the end when she's in contention, and, now, all she wants to do is just keep adding to it. It's just a whole different mindset.''
No matter what happens in Bryan, Cheyenne is determined not to take a fast track to the LPGA when the tournament is over. She has already decided she will not turn pro this summer, and she hopes to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open in Colorado Springs, Colo., in July as an amateur. She also wants to play in the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links in Bandon, Ore., in late June and the U.S. Women's Amateur at Rhode Island Country Club in August.
"I guess I'm not trying to rush anything because I know this is my last summer of being an amateur, so I'm trying to play in the top amateur events like the Am and the Publinx,'' she said. "And so, then, the next summer, I will be officially a professional and I will be able to maybe take advantage of those exemptions and play.''
It is a deliberately cautious approach. Although Cheyenne used a sponsor's exemption to play in the LPGA Wegmans Championship in Pittsford, N.Y., in 2009 before missing the cut, she has not sought to play in more pro events even though she likely would receive as many exemptions as she wanted. She doesn't ask.
"I think she's just trying to be as low-key about everything as she can,'' Dailey said. "I don't think she's trying to get any extra privileges. She wants to earn her way there and not parlay her name to get anything extra.''
On the contrary, Cheyenne goes out of her way to avoid publicizing the connection. Although she has maintained a relationship with Tiger Woods over the years, even playing a round of golf together a few times, Cheyenne was so determined not to be identified by her famous uncle that there wasn't a single mention of him in her Wake Forest team biography.
When she was asked the best golfer she ever played with, she wrote, "Charles Barkley," the former NBA star who is a notoriously poor duffer, in her bio.
"Yeah, that was just a little joke,'' Cheyenne said. "I guess [I was] taking the focus away from Tiger because everyone would assume that I would say 'Tiger Woods' because he is my uncle. I guess I just wanted to throw Charles out there just to be different.''
She is different.
Unlike Tiger Woods, who turned pro after his sophomore season, Cheyenne said she will go back to Wake Forest for her senior season while earning her undergraduate degree and spending more time with her boyfriend, Wake Forest running back Josh Harris.
In the meantime, the LPGA will have to wait.
But hopefully, not for too much longer. The women's tour could surely use a name like Woods, especially if she can be more than a name.
"Well, I think they need everything they can get,'' said Judy Rankin, a former professional golfer who is now a golf analyst for ABC and ESPN. "I don't think a name will carry that much. I think you're going to have to have the goods. I think you're going to have to be a special player.''
And if she is a game-changer like her uncle?
Said Rankin, "Then it's huge, absolutely."