How often are you asked personal questions about your uncle?
Once a month? Once a year? Never?
For me, it happens almost every day. But that’s just kind of how it works when you’re a professional golfer and your uncle happens to be Tiger Woods.
Every so often, I’ll meet a random acquaintance, and they’ll introduce themselves as if they are interested in how I’m doing or what I’m up to. But inevitably the first question I’ll get asked is, “So, how’s Tiger doing?” or “When’s the last time you talked to Tiger?” And all I can do is laugh and provide some generic answer that they’d like to hear. At this point it’s all become fairly routine for me.
The very first time I was compared to Tiger, I think I had to be like nine or 10 years old, right around when I first started playing in golf tournaments. Tiger was getting huge at that point — he was really starting to dominate. At that age, I thought it was really cool that people would talk about it with me. My junior golf coach even nicknamed me Tigress. I loved it because, like a lot of kids, I wanted to be just like my uncle when I grew up. I would dress like Tiger, wearing Nike head to toe. Then, as I got older, people would compare our progress or assume things about me as a person because of who my uncle was, and that’s when it started to get old.
I mean, I get it — he’s one of the most famous human beings on the planet and we share a last name as well as a profession. But let me clear something up once and for all: I love my uncle, and I treasure the advice he gives me when we speak every few months, but I am not Tiger Woods.
On that same note, my grandfather Earl (Tiger’s father) and I were very close, but I was never his protégé. In fact, I only went out on the golf course with him twice. Yes, golf provided a great connection for us. I remember talking about the game with him frequently and waking up early with him to watch Tiger play on TV. I even picked up my first club when I was just three-years-old at his house, playing around in the same garage where Tiger got his start. My grandfather always spoke like he knew that I would play professionally one day. He was so sure of it, too — that’s one thing I’ll always remember. In so many ways, he taught me how to truly love golf and instilled an important confidence in my game, but he was my grandfather, not my coach.
While I’m proud to have made it to the highest level of professional golf, my career hasn’t had the same arc as Tiger’s. He rose to the top extremely fast and was considered a prodigy from a very young age, but I took a different path. I always dreamed of being a professional golfer and there was never a doubt in my mind that I would one day play on the LPGA tour. But while I was a very successful junior golfer growing up in Phoenix and won a handful of national events, I never dominated like Tiger did early on in his career. Many people assumed (or expected, really) that because I had the genes, my career would follow the same path as his. But the truth was that I had to work my ass off to earn everything I’ve ever accomplished because success didn’t come quite as fast or easily for me as it did for Tiger.
When I first began playing professionally, sometimes the media would almost make me feel like I was there just for show because of my last name. I often felt like I didn’t matter, almost like I was a sideshow instead of an actual player.
When I finally did earn my LPGA Tour card after grinding it out, I felt a tremendous amount of pride in my personal accomplishment, but I was also happy to put the doubters — who thought I was just a name — in their place.
Of course, making it to the LPGA led to increased exposure, which resulted in even more comparisons. I’ve had many interactions with reporters where the only topic of conversation was my uncle. This is hardly surprising because, in the golf world, the main question on everyone’s mind is always, “Who is the next Tiger Woods?” — just ask Rory or Jordan Spieth. With me having the name and being related to him, it’s very easy figure, Well, maybe she’ll dominate the women’s game like Tiger dominated the men’s game when he was her age.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t constantly feel the pressure of that expectation. It’s impossible to ignore. When I was developing my game, I wasn’t dominating. I still haven’t really dominated. And because of that, for a while, I felt like I wasn’t doing well enough. I felt like I could never live up to what people were expecting of me, and that’s difficult to cope with.
Over time, I’ve learned to set my own standard. Everyone has their own journey and their own purpose in life, so I’m finding mine. I think for a 24-year-old, I’m doing pretty well for myself. I don’t know what the future has in store for me, but I know what my goals are, and they aren’t dictated by anyone in this world except myself. It’s exhausting to live your life in terms of comparisons. By doing so, regardless of what you accomplish, you’re never going to appreciate your achievements. I don’t need to be the next Tiger. I just want to become the best version of myself.
Of course, I realize that regardless of what I accomplish in my career, there are probably going to be plenty of people who always consider me “Tiger’s niece.”
I’m very proud to be related to my uncle, but it’s not what defines me as a golfer or a person.
Yes, my last name is Woods — but you can call me Cheyenne.
Photos by AP Images