Cheyenne: the other Woods

That famous last name would have been a heavy load to carry anywhere in the world. On a golf course, Cheyenne admits it is the proverbial Sword of Damocles, hanging forever over her head, as people wait to judge her. Tiger Woods’ niece is more than aware of the legend that her uncle is on the greens and the fairways.

Cheyenne Woods (right in pic) with Pawan Munjal, Chairman of Hero MotoCorp and Sharmila Nicolette.   -  PTI

“Sat Sri Akal India,” says Cheyenne Woods. She is charming, carefree and curious to know the world around her. At 25, she is keen on making a mark in her chosen field, is serious about her career but loves to experiment in life. In short, she is every bit a normal, modern youngster. Except for the surname that she carries — Woods.

That famous last name would have been a heavy load to carry anywhere in the world. On a golf course, Cheyenne admits it is the proverbial Sword of Damocles, hanging forever over her head, as people wait to judge her. Tiger Woods’ niece is more than aware of the legend that her uncle is on the greens and the fairways.

“I think a lot of people have a lot of expectations, but I don’t know if I should say there is pressure (of being Tiger's niece). I haven’t played with Tiger; we see each other only about once a year. But it helped having Tiger in the sport. I’ve always watched him on TV as a young girl and I always wanted to play with him,” says Cheyenne, who was in India for the marquee Indian Open recently.

The Woods surname does help Cheyenne set her targets high. She admits it is definitely an advantage on the professional tour in terms of recognition, but denies it ever helps in her game.

“I have a lot of expectations of myself. At the end of the day, it’s golf and I have to go out and execute it to the best of my ability. I have to work as hard as anyone and out there on the course, it’s just you, the course and your caddy. The name doesn’t help in improving performances. Everyone has his personal pressures and expectations, mine are just a little more public,” she says.

Cheyenne sure has been working hard to prove herself. With a title each on the Ladies European Tour (LET) and the co-sanctioned Australian Ladies Professional Golf (ALPG) Tour since turning pro in 2013, she has improved with every outing. Ranked No. 291 in the world, Cheyenne won the Suncoast Ladies Series International in 2012 — the year she turned pro — for her first professional title. She then followed it up with the Volvik PACV Ladies Masters in 2014 and narrowly failed to win the Indian Open after messing up on the final hole.

“I have learnt after so many events on the tour that it is not about your reputation, your driving or anything else on the course — it’s about how many putts you make and pars you save,” says Cheyenne, who had a full card to play on the elite LPGA Tour in 2015 and a conditional card for the next year.

Though it may be unfair to label her a celebrity already in her brief career, there is no denying that Cheyenne carries more on her shoulders than simply her own performances. Unlike several other celebrity sportspersons, however, it is also clear that she is not out of sync with the realities of professional golf and its shortcomings.

“I suppose having that family connection helped, knowing what is possible and what is not. Watching Tiger compete and dominate was something that motivated me to practise and play. At the same time, it’s true that there are not many African-American winners on the women’s golf tour: It is something at the back of my mind. I want to show that golf is for everybody,” she says.

Away from the tour, Cheyenne is in love with everything Indian. With a best friend back home in Phoenix, Arizona, called Rimpi Saini and weekly parties that play Bollywood music, Cheyenne is keen to explore the country at leisure.

“This is my first trip to India, and the only impression I have so far is from playing with Sharmila Nicolett and speaking to Tiger before coming here. I only heard positive things from an excited Tiger about the support he got here, and I know Sharmila is great as a competitor and fun to be with. I have learnt Sat Sri Akal (traditional greeting in Punjabi) from Rimpi’s family and I love the Indian food her mother cooks and I know Indians love dancing and are great dancers,” she says.