At 9 a.m. Tuesday, Cheyenne Woods walked through the parking lot at Raintree Country Club, her silver Nike golf bag slung over her shoulder, a Wake Forest Deacons head cover bobbing on her driver.
Woods is already well known in the golf world in part because of an All-American career at Wake Forest that included the 2011 ACC individual championship, but more because she is Tiger Woods’ niece.
At Raintree, where she will tee it up in the Symetra Classic starting Friday, Woods is doing the hard, often lonely work of attempting to carve out a career on golf’s back roads. She made her professional debut at the Wegman’s LPGA Championship in June and made the cut in the prestigious Evian Masters in France a few weeks later.
Last month, Woods won her first professional event, a Suncoast Ladies Series developmental tour event in Florida that came with a check for $3,000, a trophy and a needed dose of confidence.
It also came with a tweet from her uncle.
‘Congratulations to my niece Cheyenne on winning her first professional event on Suncoast Ladies Series Tour! Won by 4, very proud,’ Tiger tweeted.
Last week, Cheyenne Woods felt lost again, missing the 36-hole cut in the first stage of the LPGA Tour’s annual qualifying tournament. Any chance of playing her way onto the big tour next year evaporated almost before it began.
Sitting in a quiet ballroom inside the Raintree clubhouse before an extended practice session, Woods sounded both optimistic and philosophical about her path into professional golf.
“The past month has been a little bit of a roller coaster,” Woods said. “Now I have a new week to figure out my next move.”
The Symetra Classic, debuting in Charlotte on Friday, will give Woods, 22, another measuring point in her developing career. She graduated from Wake Forest in May and calls the Phoenix area home, but she’s been learning to fend for herself in her post-college life.
She will play this weekend against many of the golfers she faced in junior and college golf. The Symetra Tour sends its top 10 money winners each year onto the LPGA Tour the following year and this will be her first event on the developmental tour.
Woods was given a sponsor exemption into the event because of her Wake Forest ties, her recent victory and her celebrity. She long ago accepted the fact the public will see her as Tiger’s niece, a tie she embraces.
“I’m used to it,” Woods said. “It’s part of it and it’s not going to go away. I have to learn to play with it regardless.”
Cheyenne said she and her uncle talk “here and there” and he’s supportive of her journey, having offered advice as she needs it.
“Having the (Woods) name has given me a lot more opportunities than I would have had otherwise. I can play with the name,” she said.
The challenge, as she sees it, is getting comfortable with the idea that she belongs in professional golf.
When she made the cut in August at the Evian Masters, Woods affirmed her belief that she can get where she wants to go in golf. The four-stroke victory in Florida two weeks ago was like a pilot soloing for the first time.
“I learned that I’m better than I think I am,” Woods said. “I don’t give myself a lot of credit. My confidence is something I’m working on.
“I came out of college in May and went to the LPGA Championship. I felt out of place. I was nervous because I didn’t feel I really belonged there. But after playing a few events, I definitely feel more comfortable. This summer has been really big for me.”
Flaming out early in the qualifying school process was a harsh reminder of how the game is built on numbers, not names.
Still, Woods will earn some sponsor exemptions into big events because of who she is and what she’s done. She’ll play an LPGA Tour event in Korea next month and will likely get more invitations next year.
This week, she’s staying with the family of a former Wake Forest teammate, feeling a comfortable vibe. Woods still checks her computer regularly to see how her college teammates are doing while she adjusts to her new life.
“This year is about getting used to everything,” Woods said.
A few minutes later, she headed outside to see a new golf course, a new tournament and another new adventure.