Cheyenne Woods looks so comfortable in her own skin.
That’s no small triumph given her name, her legacy and the burden of expectations that come with trying to follow her famous uncle into professional golf.
It’s what strikes you most about her, even before her breakthrough win Sunday at the Australian Ladies Masters.
Woods’ sense of herself, her quiet assurance in who she is beyond being Tiger Woods’ niece, is what gives her a fighting chance to be the best player she can be, whether that’s as a Tigress, or a one-shot wonder, or something in between.
And make no mistake, Cheyenne Woods, 23, looked like a Tigress closing out her first professional victory outside a tiny Florida mini-tour event.
She looked nerveless holding off her challengers on the back nine Sunday, making birdies at two of the final four holes, three of the last seven to beat 17-year-old Australian amateur Minjee Lee by two shots with Lee applying all kinds of pressure by making three consecutive birdies on the front nine.
After drilling her final tee shot deep down the middle of the 18th fairway, Woods quickly plucked her tee from the ground and marched resolutely to her bag. She wasn't wearing a power-red Sunday shirt like her uncle does, but she radiated with confidence and purpose throughout the back nine, dressed in all white with a splash of pink in her shirt.
With her cover-girl looks and a smile that bears a striking resemblance to her famous uncle’s, Woods has the gift of a dynamic presence. And she possessed it long before she won Down Under.
“I've been a pro for two years, and for the majority of it, people just think of me as Tiger Woods' niece,” Cheyenne said after hoisting the Aussie Ladies Masters trophy. “So, now I have a game of my own, and I have a title now, a win, which is exciting.
“It's nice now to say to people that I can play, and I'm not just a name.”
There was no resentment in those words. If you’ve followed Cheyenne Woods since she turned pro two years ago, 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’s doing that the way most young players must do it, trying and failing as they work their way up the developmental ranks.
Yes, of course, Woods’ name has helped her with sponsorships since she graduated from Wake Forest. Yes, she has benefited from playing a limited number of LPGA events on sponsor invites, but after failing to qualify for the LPGA’s tour, she earned her Ladies European Tour card. She grinded away on the smaller foreign circuit as a rookie all of last year, finishing 78th on the LET Order of Merit. She’s still looking at playing the LET and LPGA Symetra Tour this year.
Honestly, if you were looking for signs of something special in Cheyenne’s game since she turned pro, you had to look beyond the scores and numbers. After grabbing the first-round lead at the Spanish Open last year, she followed it up with a 78. There have been a lot of those kind of disappointments in her pro career, which only makes her breakthrough more satisfying.
When Cheyenne Woods shoots 78, you can be sure there are snickers.
“Growing up with the last name of Woods, there is a lot of expectations and pressure and spotlight on you, but I always knew that I was able to win,” Woods said. “I always knew I'd be able to compete with these ladies, so now it's kind of a weight off my shoulders, because now everybody knows, not just me.”
Yes, this wasn’t an LPGA event Woods won Down Under, but it was no mini-tour event, either. She beat a field in a tournament co-sanctioned by the LET and Australian Ladies Professional Golf. She beat a field that included Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, who was going for a record ninth title in this event. She beat a field that included Jessica Korda, who won the LPGA season opener in the Bahamas two weeks ago. She beat a field that included Caroline Hedwall, the Solheim Cup star who last year helped the Europeans win for the first time on American soil, and a field that included England’s Charley Hull and former Rolex world No. 1 Yani Tseng.
In the immediate aftermath of Sunday's win, Cheyenne said she had yet to check her text messages when asked if Tiger sent a congratulatory note. She did say Tiger texted her earlier in the week, encouraging her.
Cheyenne choked up at the trophy presentation when talking about her family.
“I know my mom will have shed a million tears,” Woods said. “Every day, I was getting texts from back home, from family, and I knew my mom and dad were watching the tournament online.”
Cheyenne is the daughter of Earl Woods Jr., the oldest son of Earl Woods Sr., Tiger’s late father. Earl was among three children born in Earl Sr.’s first marriage.
Tiger doesn’t talk about his siblings. He doesn’t let us in on his relationship with that side of the family. ESPN’s Rick Reilly painted a cold picture of it in a story before the Masters last year. He wrote back then that Tiger has had no contact with his siblings since his father died in 2006. Cheyenne, though, reports a good relationship with her uncle, gratefulness for the help Tiger has offered her over the years.
“I’ve asked Tiger for advice, here and there, so he’s great to have for that,” Cheyenne said earlier this week. “But pretty much, I’m just out here doing my own thing.”
The temptation now will be to ratchet up the expectations, to project what Cheyenne Woods could mean to the women’s game if she becomes its Tigress. Given her name, her looks and her dynamic presence, she possesses the intangibles that no player outside Michelle Wie possesses in being able to raise the women’s game to another level.
Now that’s a load of pressure to heap on anyone’s shoulders, especially a player who worked so hard to break through and win for the first time on a major tour.
The upside is Woods has lived with those expectations most of her life and managed to look so comfortable doing so. There’s something to admire in that alone.
Update: Tiger sent out a congratulatory tweet Sunday afternoon:
Way to go @Cheyenne_Woods ! A great win and accomplishment. I'm so proud of you.— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) February 9, 2014