DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Cheyenne Woods is blessed with a special name that could easily have become a curse when she decided to play golf.
She is, of course, niece to Tiger Woods.
While there’s pride in that, there is, psychologically, a potential prison sentence in it, too.
There are overwhelming expectations that could seem impossible to escape every time she tees it up. There’s also a sense that the name opens doors and clears paths that ought to make the game easier for her.
That’s what makes Cheyenne’s achievement Sunday at LPGA Q-School so meaningful to her. She earned her tour card the hard way.
At 24, Woods scraped, scrapped and clawed her way onto the biggest stage in the women’s game. After toiling overseas learning her craft on the Ladies European Tour last year, proving herself there by winning the Australian Ladies Masters early this year, she came back home to grind away on the Symetra Tour, a very unglamorous and stark developmental road to the LPGA ranks.
Ultimately, Woods won her tour card by slugging her way through Q-School this week, making it in her third try after failing in 2012 and ’13. She earned her card on a hard path riddled with all the challenges every young player must face.
“The work I’ve done has paid off,” Woods said afterward. “It wasn’t given to me. Nothing was handed to me. It was me, at home, working every day, all the hours I’ve put in on the golf course. It wasn’t a connection, or somebody I knew getting me in. It was me, playing 90 holes this week and playing well. It felt so good to have earned that, and to become an LPGA member on my own.”
Woods started Sunday tied for 32nd, knowing she needed a good final round to crack the top 20 and claim full LPGA membership. She delivered, posting a 2-under-par 70 to climb into a tie for 11th at day’s end. Her 70 that was better than it looked on paper with LPGA International’s Hills Course playing tough. Only two players posted better scores.
Over at the Hero World Challenge, Cheyenne’s famous uncle knew the hard work his niece invested in Sunday’s achievement.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Tiger said. “She worked her tail off to get there, traveling all over the world, playing where she could. She earned that card.”
Finishing early Sunday, Cheyenne had to sweat out a wait in the clubhouse, refreshing the scoring on her cell phone while the rest of the field finished. She said Tiger called to congratulate her when her tour card was secured.
Ultimately, Cheyenne prevailed in a week that was a microcosm of her entire year, fighting through ups and downs. She opened Q-School brilliantly with a 68, then stumbled to a dumbfounding 79 in the second round, leaving her in a hole. She went from a tie for tie for fifth to a tie for 80th.
“This year has been a roller coaster,” Cheyenne said. “The very first tournament I played, I missed the cut, a European Tour event, and then I won the next one. Between my win and Q-School, I didn’t play well. So, it was tough. But this was my overall goal. This week is what I always had in the back of my mind. It’s what I continued to work for and work towards.
“At the end of the day, I’m extremely happy with 2014. It’s probably one of the best days of my life.”
That 79 in the second round could have derailed a lesser player.
“I think I’m just really proud of my fight and my resilience and my ability not to give up, continuing to believe in myself,” Woods said. “That was the biggest thing, having belief it would happen, and fighting through that rough day and being able to come out tied for 11th.”
If you’ve followed Woods since she turned pro, you’ve seen the humble gratefulness for opportunities she knows her name created. She gets it. She also gets that fellow players will ultimately respect only the name she makes for herself. She earned another big dose of it this week.