Cheyenne Woods, Tiger’s Niece, Seeking to Make History on LPGA Tour

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i-1Tiger Woods finally led an African-American into pro golf. That it is his niece was not exactly what was expected of him when he announced “Hello, world” in 1996, but it’s a start, however late.

Cheyenne Woods, the daughter of Tiger’s half-brother, Earl Woods Jr., is just one of six Black women to ever make it to the LPGA Tour, a feat that is not lost on her and the golf world. She has not gained as much attention as her super-famous uncle, but she does draw a crowd wherever she goes in her first year on the premier circuit.

“It feels so good to know it has all paid off, that it was not given to me, nothing was handed to me,” she said after winning her LPGA card. “It was me working every day, the hours I put in on the golf course. It wasn’t a connection or someone I knew that got me in.”

The 24-year-old closely resembles her famous relative, and her golf swing is smooth and beautiful. She took up the game, she said, from watching Tiger on television when she was a kid.

Her paternal grandfather, Earl Woods Sr., told her she would be a pro player when he saw her swing as a child. Cheyenne has been working toward the LPGA Tour ever since.

Unlike Tiger, Cheyenne addresses head-on her race and the importance of her presence as a professional golfer. She is the product of a Black father and white mother. “I grew up more on my mom’s side of the family,” Cheyenne said. “(But) my mom searched out for a local minority golf association in Phoenix when I was 8 or 9. So then I could play golf with other kids who kind of looked similar. It really opened up my eyes to the fact that I wasn’t the only one like me. So when I went to this golf group, I was around other kids who were mixed-race, African-American, Mexican. We all had something in common.”

Also unlike Tiger, Cheyenne has a Black caddie — Reynolds Robinson, who was working on the PGA Tour but embraced a chance to work with the talented young golfer.

Now that she is there, Cheyenne, who graduated from Wake Forest, says she’s intent on making the most of it — in her play and influence. Tennis legend Althea Gibson, who took up golf in her 30s and began playing on the LPGA Tour in 1964; Renee Powell (late 1960s to 1980); LaRee Sugg (1995-97 and 2000-01) and Shasta Averyhardt (conditional status in 2011 and ’13) are the only Black women before this year to play on the LPGA Tour.

“It’s significant because of the lack of African-American women in the LPGA,” Cheyenne said. “You can name all of them easily because there have been so few.

“If the last name of Woods brings new fans or new players to the game of golf, I love that,” she said to news outlets. “I think the connection with Tiger will always be there, but with me being on the women’s side of the game, I will be able to create an identity of my own that might reach a different demographic than Tiger did.”

Cheyenne is joined on the LPGA Tour this year by Sadena Parks, who was a contestant on the Golf Channel’s Big Break. “I think it’s special that both Sadena and I were able to do it the same year,” Woods said. “We’ve known each other since we were 14 or 15 years old. We grew up playing in the same golf organizations. It’s kind of a long time coming.”

Said Parks, noting that no African-American woman has ever won an LPGA event: “It’s not just being there on tour; I don’t think that’s good enough. You have to win some to get people to really notice.”

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said, “I think it comes down to somebody setting the mark. The first African-American woman who wins an LPGA event, it’s going to change the way some young kids think about this sport, and their opportunities in it.

Cheyenne Woods with caddie Reynolds Robinson in Dubai.
Cheyenne Woods with caddie Reynolds Robinson in Dubai.

“We’ve seen these barriers break down in other countries that previously had little or no history in women’s golf, like Taiwan or Malaysia or China. Nothing gets kids’ attention more than role models. At the end of the day, they have to have someone to believe in.

“Cheyenne is one of those players that winning could be bigger than golf. It’s ‘SportsCenter’ as opposed to ‘Golf Central.'”

That is not lost on Woods, who senses her place in history.

“I’d like to help kids think golf is cool, and it’s for everybody,” Woods, who won an event in Australia last year, said. “But when you look at the LPGA, you don’t have a big name of any African-American woman who kids can look up to, or put their poster on their wall, or tune in and watch them every week. I think that’s something that the game has been lacking.”

Tiger Woods has spoken often about how proud he is of his niece, and she’s equally proud and influenced by him.

“You can’t help but be inspired when you see someone you are related to have so much success in life, no matter what they do,” Cheyenne said. “He has shown me what is possible.”

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