Cheyenne Woods: ‘Golf is still dominated by white males’

Tiger Woods’ niece speaks about the weight of her surname and managing expectations

Cheyenne Woods could write an ultimate guide to preconception. Choosing a career in golf, when her uncle happens to be the most famous player of all time, led to brickbats she was immediately aware of. From junior golf, through college and into the professional ranks, the murmur has been consistent – including from fellow players. “It was difficult to accept that I was deserving of some of the comments I received,” Woods says. “‘She only gets attention or support because of her last name.’ I had to totally disregard that. I am appreciative of the support, and I play golf because I love it.”

Woods – erudite, thoughtful, lively – will turn 30 next month, and remains without full status on the LPGA Tour. Having enjoyed a stellar amateur career, she is now ranked 386th in the world. Eight years after turning professional, Woods is candid about why anything approaching the domination Tiger is famed for has not transpired. She is also perfectly at peace with that.

“Once I made it there [the LPGA Tour] I struggled to feel comfortable and believe in my ability,” Woods explains. “You sometimes think you have to play a different game or change as a person. What got you there is actually what’s going to keep you there. The Tiger Woods thing was tough for me, I didn’t think it would be hard but it was. I struggled with trusting my own ability but I’m through the other end of it now. I know who I am as a player and a person. I do believe I haven’t reached my potential.”

Inevitably, “the Tiger Woods thing” raises intrigue. Cheyenne’s relationship with the “supportive” 15-times major winner is absolutely fine. Instead, it was one with herself that she admits to toiling with for so long. “Growing up with the last name of Woods I knew what to expect,” she says. “I understood the headlines catch attention a little more.


“I thought if I just pretended it didn’t bother me, it wouldn’t – but I learned that I truly did have to address it. I had to see for myself that I am a person, a golfer outside of being Tiger’s niece, before anybody else can see that as well. I know why I am doing this, I know who I am. I had to disregard what people wrote or said. I’m doing this for me.”

She contintues: “I have had those moments of wishing I was Jane Doe. But listen, it has helped me; I have been able to have conversations with Tiger, have doors and opportunities open to become a better player and person. At one point I wanted to prove everybody wrong. Now I see the positives.”

Cheyenne is the daughter of Earl Dennison Woods, Tiger’s half-brother. The late Earl Sr, Tiger’s father, introduced Cheyenne to golf and remains a burning influence. “He thought I could be one of the first consistent, dominant black women on the LPGA,” she says of her grandfather. “To this day, his words are in my head. What he believed I could be is something I still think about.”

Earl Sr and Cheyenne never did have a detailed discussion about racism – partly because Cheyenne was only 15 when her grandfather died. An earlier trip to a junior golf event for minorities in Florida raised her awareness of a them-and-us culture. “I realised I was missing out on diversity within the sport. A white dominant environment was the norm.”

Woods also recalls a flyer posted to the family home. “The picture was of a white baby with blue eyes and blonde hair,” Woods recalls. “It said: ‘Missing: the Aryan race, the predominant race, the powerful race.’ I didn’t realise there were people like that, promoting white supremacy. That’s when I really noticed I was a little different and maybe not accepted everywhere.”

Quite naturally, that cruel form of learning returned to Woods’s mind as recent events in the US unfolded. She is almost apologetic about not wanting to watch video footage of George Floyd’s killing. “I know how it would affect me,” she admits. “I’m not shocked, which is bad, but we have seen it so many times before. It’s good that it was made public because people need to see the truth of what is going on.

“It’s a news cycle that we, as the black community, have seen repeatedly by this stage. It is hard to watch, hard to listen to but I am very encouraged by the protests. People are able to be heard and things are actually starting to change now, which is very exciting. Positive change has been long overdue. These storylines have happened time after time, even before this was documented on social media.

“This feels different; for the first time in my lifetime, seeing white, black, Asian, Mexican people and those in other countries protesting as well … an unarmed black man murdered like that seems a turning point. It is nice to see people coming together for the good of humanity and speaking up for the black community, who haven’t been heard for so long.”

That isn’t to say Woods sees herself as a victim. “For the most part I think I’ve had some carryover from white privilege,” Woods explains. “White mother, black father; blending into society and not necessarily standing out. I haven’t had direct experiences in my golf career but I’ve been around conversations, people making racist comments; not to or about me but in general, because I do blend in.

“Golf is still very much dominated by white males. The history is very deep. The access to the sport still needs some work. It is going to take time but I see progression, the conversations are being had.”

The coronavirus outbreak will deny Woods a tilt at qualifying school as she bids to return to the LPGA Tour full-time. She was playing a qualifying event when Uncle Tiger rocked the world at the 2019 Masters, highlighting a great dichotomy. It remains far too premature to discount Cheyenne from similar marquee career moments – but it appears she will cope just fine if they don’t transpire. – Guardian