Presumably, most conversations with Cheyenne Woods start like this: with an apology.
“I’m sorry to have to do this,” I begin, “but I have to ask you about your uncle.” Cheyenne manages an expectant smile, a smile that says, ‘Yep, thought so’. Her uncle, of course, is former world No.1 Tiger Woods.
You thought Tiger was an only child, didn’t you? Wrong. Sure, he was the only child born to his father Earl Woods and his second wife Kultida Punsawad, but he has three half-siblings from his dad’s first marriage to Barbara Gray: Earl Dennison Junior, Kevin Dale and Royce Renee.
Earl Junior is Cheyenne’s dad, making 14-time major winner Tiger her uncle.
Currently in her rookie season on the LPGA, Cheyenne admits she is growing weary of the questions about her famous relative but, equally, understands why they get asked.
“I guess it is a little frustrating that people always want to talk to me about him,” she shrugs. “But I’m used to it by now. It’s part of the routine pretty much every week going from tournament to tournament. He’s one of the biggest names in sports history, so I get it.
“We probably speak every few months. Not too often. He keeps up with how I’m doing and checks in every once in a while to see how I’m doing, which is pretty cool. We’ll talk about golf and how each of us is getting on. It’s good to have somebody like that to talk to and bounce ideas around with."
Like Tiger, Cheyenne was introduced to golf by Earl - her grandfather, Tiger’s dad. Whereas he coached Tiger from an early age, however, he was considerably less involved in Cheyenne’s game.
“He never really coached me,” reveals the 25-year-old. “He got me started, introduced me to the game and gave me my first set of clubs but I only really went on the golf course with him twice. Most of the time that I spent with him was at his house. We had more of a ‘grandfather-granddaughter’ relationship than a ‘coach-student’ relationship.”
History has cast Earl as a determined, almost overbearing influence on Tiger’s career. "Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity,” he rather outrageously claimed when his son turned professional in 1996. In a May 2000 interview, he declared: “I knew Tiger was special the day he was born” and, on other occasion, insisted that Tiger had a golf swing ‘when he got out of the high chair’. You get the picture.
How does Cheyenne remember him, though? “He was the most interesting man I’ve ever met,” she recalls. “He knew everything about everything. He had been throught so much in his life that
some of his stories were just incredible. He was great to talk to and, above all else, a fantastic grandfather. He was just a wonderful man.”
Cheyenne Nicole Woods was born on July 25, 1990. She first picked up a golf club at the age of three - hitting shots in the same garage where a young Tiger also had his first introduction to golf - and was she was six by the time her uncle won the Masters by 12 shots in 1997, bagging his first major in the process.
He had won five more by the time Cheyenne’s first victory of note came along. She won the 10-and-under division of the Southwest PGA’s Junior State Championship in 2001, cantering to a ten-shot victory over her opponents at Antelope Hills in Arizona.
She was back in the winner’s circle just a week later, taking the girls’ nine- and ten-year-old division of the inaugural US Kids Golf World Championship by four shots.
The weight, therefore, of the ‘Woods’ name clearly never weighed heavy around her neck.
“You know, it maybe did a little in the beginning,” she admits. “But I quickly got used to it and you soon learn to not care what people think and not get too worked up by the comparisons people might draw between you.
“I’ve got my own individual goals and things that I want to accomplish in the game, so I’m not about to compare myself to Tiger. Other people do and that’s fine, that’s up to them, but I’m just going to focus on doing my own thing and not let anything like that get to me.”
Cheyenne admits, though, that being Tiger’s niece often went before her when meeting new people in the golf industry.
“Most of the girls that I played golf with I grew up with so they knew me for me,” she adds. “It was funny, though, when I went to college and I first met my teammates. They had an assumption of what I would be like. A bad assumption. I’d hear people say, ‘She’s this’ or ‘She’s that’ or ‘She acts this way’ but, if you know me, you know I’m not like that at all.
“It’s funny the way people assume that, because you have a famous name or a famous connection, that you’re going to have these linked characteristics or whatever and it’s just not the case. It’s not true in the slightest. But I don’t care. It’s part and parcel of the job. I’m me and Tiger’s Tiger. We’re related and we both play golf. I can see why some people might think we’re going to be really similar but we’re two different people.”
So, what is Cheynne Woods really like? “I think I’m a pretty laid back person,” she says. “When I’m not competing, I enjoy going home to relax and spend time with my friends. I enjoy going hiking and get out in the countryside almost every day. I love to run and work out, too, getting my nails done and all that sort of thing. Nothing too exciting or too taxing. I like going to gigs, too. My favourite artist is Drake and I was able to go to his concert in Toronto a few months ago and meet him, which was just awesome. So, things like that really. I’d say I’m pretty normal.”
Asked what she most wants to achieve in golf, Cheyenne is as emphatic as she is unequivocal. “I want to be an LPGA major champion. This is my rookie year on tour and I’m learning how to win, what it takes to be a success in the game and be at the top consistently because that’s where I want to be. I want to have that No.1 world ranking.”
Sound familiar? All the signs are that she has every chance of fulfilling those goals. Her first victory on a major women’s golf tour came along in February 2014 when she won the Volvik RACV Ladies Masters on the Ladies European Tour.
“That was really exciting,” she smiles. “To have that win under my belt and to do it on the LET was awesome. It was a great feeling and it definitely helped me get that confidence that you need in professional golf. To know you can be in that position and close out the win is great.”
She ended last year by finishing in a tie for 11th at the 90-hole LPGA Q-School, earning one of the 20 cards on offer in the process. She is, in simple terms, on track.
Beyond getting to world No.1 and winning majors, she also has her sights set on representing her country in a couple of high-profile team events.
“I’d love to play the Solheim Cup and it would be amazing to play in the Olympics, too,” she says. “I definitely would love to be a part of that time in the future. Playing on behalf of the USA at any event would be such an amazing honour but particularly at the Olympics. For golf to now be a part of it is definitely special.
“I’ve always loved playing team golf. It was great fun in college. Just being able to represent something that is bigger than you, it’s an incredible opportunity. The Olympics certainly fits that bill. It’s something that not many people ever really get the chance to be a part of and particularly in golf where we spend so much time playing, mainly, as individuals. I think it’s awesome golf is part of it.”
Cheyenne recently had her first experience of playing in Scotland, too, when she teed it up in the Aberdeen Asset Management Ladies Scottish Open. Playing alongside former Scotland and British Lions rugby captain Gavin Hastings, she narrowly missed the cut but, by all accounts, appeared to enjoy the experience.
“The courses in Scotland are always fun to play,” she says. “I love a challenge and links golf is always that. It was actually my third visit to Scotland. I’d played at Kingsbarns and a few other places around St Andrews when I was in high school.”
She has, however, stopped short of trying any of the local ‘delicacies’ on offer. “I’ve heard all about haggis,” she laughs. “But the way that people explained it, it wasn’t very tempting. I’m always down to try new stuff but maybe not that.”
Cheyenne Woods in bunkered
This interview with Cheyenne Woods first appeared in issue 142 of bunkered (published: September 2015).