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Starting A Career With A Famous Last Name

PITTSFORD, NEW YORK l She calls him “Uncle Tiger,” smacked her first golf shot into his famous net and got her first set of clubs from Earl Sr.

Cheyenne Woods, 21, is the daughter of Earl Woods, Jr., one of Earl’s three children from his first marriage. She turned pro three weeks ago after graduating from Wake Forest and her ambition is to play on the LPGA Tour.

“This is what I’ve dreamed about my entire life,” she said. “I’ve been waiting and waiting for this moment.”

Woods just got her first taste of the challenge ahead. She missed the cut in her professional debut at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, shooting 10-over-par 154.

She didn’t even need 140 characters to summarize her performance in a post-round tweet: “Played absolutely terrible today.”

Twenty years ago, Woods attended her first professional tournament. She recounted a story that has become part of her legend. It was the 1992 Nissan Los Angeles Open. She was 19 months old and strapped into a stroller. Her mother, Susan, pushed her along Riviera Country Club’s verdant playground as 16-year-old Tiger made his PGA Tour debut.

“I was trying to keep her quiet,” recalled Susan, who attended the LPGA Championship.

During that same visit, Woods struck her first golf shot in her grandfather’s garage, into the same net where Tiger got his start. Grandpa Earl used to scrutinize her swing via VHS tape. He preached some of his cagiest advice, such as the infamous tip to “putt to the picture” to her.

“He saw something in me and knew I would at one point in my life be in this position that I’m in right now,” she said. “That’s something that motivated me throughout the years.”

So Grandpa Earl has blessed us with Tiger and Cheyenne. It’s unclear the depth of their relationship. In Tom Callahan’s book, “His Father’s Son,” Callahan notes that prior to Tiger’s scandal she asked Wake Forest’s sports information department to remove a mention of Tiger in her bio.

“Nothing against him,” she said in the book. “He’s been very nice to me. It’s just, you see, I don’t want to be Tiger Woods’ niece.”

Since turning pro, she has tightened her allegiance. She signed with Tiger’s agent, Mark Steinberg, and was decked out in Nike gear and equipment (though an endorsement deal hasn’t been officially announced yet). Make no mistake, Woods was given a sponsor’s invite – into a major no less – because of her last name.

When pressed to elaborate on how Tiger has supported her, she said, “He’s there for me. Just knowing that I could call him, or if I need any help or advice, he’s been in my shoes before.”

Tiger cared enough to send a pre-tournament text of encouragement. “He told me just to trust my game,” she said. His other words of wisdom: “(He’s) always telling me to kick butt.”

The burden of expectation has kicked the professional aspirations of many with less royal surnames. Her junior and amateur credentials don’t match Tiger’s, but then whose do? She was a two-time all-American, winner of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament by seven shots her junior year, and medalist at the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links. Not too shabby.

For one week anyway, Woods handled the spotlight with aplomb.

“I’ve been dealing with the media a long time having the last name of Woods,” she said. “It’s really nothing that I’m not used to.”

More sponsor invites will surely follow, meaning she will have to tightrope that thin line between wanting to prove she belongs and accumulating a record that reeks of unearned privilege. Qualifying for next month’s U.S. Women’s Open at Black Wolf Run on merit will help her cause.

“Right now, I just want to earn my way on the tour,” she said.

Q-School this fall beckons and there’s work to be done. Her short game lacked polish. Or, as Tiger might put it, she’s going to have to improve turning three shots into two.

Any assessment of her potential needs to be tempered in reality. Don’t expect her to be a world-beater or record-breaker. But wherever Woods goes, she draws attention, something the LPGA desperately needs. Women’s golf could use another minority role model.

Indeed, her name recognition attracted an eclectic gallery. She could’ve used Steve Williams by her side with all the middle-aged men snapping their camera phones during play. After the round, she was upbeat and garrulous and spoke to fans like they were acquaintances, not quite friends but beyond strangers. This was after flopping to a Friday 79, mind you. It’s a gene she must’ve inherited from Phil, not Tiger.

“Cheyenne has that rare combination of skill and charisma,” said her Xavier College Preparatory coach, Lynn Winsor. “She’s one of the most humble people I’ve ever known.”

Tiger, on the other hand, was humbled.

It was past 8 p.m. when she finished signing the last autograph and posing for pictures. “My face hurts from smiling,” Woods said.

Her oversized grin wasn’t forced. It hasn’t hardened into granite the way some celebrities do. No, this was the smile of youth from someone whose career was ready for takeoff.


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