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Our Game 2: Cheyenne Woods Is Creeping Out Of Uncle Tiger’s Shadow 

When Earl Woods was alive and whipping the steering wheel for Team Woods, he had a kingdom’s worth of chips riding on his son Tiger Woods’ success. The legend of Tiger’s dad is almost as significant and remarkable as that of his prodigy son because Earl is the person directly responsible for teaching, guiding, motivating and cultivating the Michael Jackson of golf.

As Tiger’s fame reached mythical heights, Earl’s maniacal approach to busting the golf world and it’s racial barriers wide open became the  blue print for any parent with dreams of creating a world class athlete out of their child.

When Earl passed away in 2006 Tiger’s PGA Tour dominance slowly morphed into a roller coaster of pitiful performances and flashes of his old brilliance. Off the green, his appetite for sex and dirty blonds led to him crashing his car, wrecking his marriage and his reputation as a “perfect” role model. Those life-changing moments marked the beginning of the end of the sports phenomenon known as “Tigermania. Tiger hasn’t regained his clear dominance over the field (ranked 221st in the world) and the sheer omnipotence of that watershed 1997 Masters. He’s stuck in quicksand with 14 majors and his hopes of catching Jack Nicklaus’ 18 titles are slowly waning. 

But we forgot to give more props to the puppet master Earl Woods. His legacy will continue to grow through Tiger’s golf-gushing niece Cheyenne Woods who won the Australian Ladies Masters on Sunday for her first major professional tour victory, capped with an emphatic birdie on the 18th-hole. She did it – as WuTang would say – "Tiger style."

Tiger was known for his multi-faceted game. Looks like papa Earl was no one trick pony either.

The 23-year-old Cheyenne won by two strokes and finished with a 4-under 69 at Royal Pines to finish at 16-under.

While the event doesn’t earn her a spot on the LPGA tour, which is her ultimate goal, Woods' win earned her $51,000 in prize money, a two-year exemption on the Ladies European Tour events and was her first personal step towards making a name for herself in the links lane.

"I've been pro for two years and, for the majority of it, people just think of me as Tiger Woods' niece so now I have a game of my own and I have a title now, a win, which is exciting," Cheyenne told cbssports. com. "It's nice now to say to people that I can play and I'm not just a name.

"Growing up with the last name of Woods, there's a lot of expectations and pressure and spotlight on you but I always knew that I was able to win.

"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, added Cheyenne, who won her first pro event, the 54-hole SunCoast Ladies Series at LPGA International on August 30, 2012.

She’s very similar to her uncle in many ways, and in him, she has the best sounding board in the business. They are both mixed race. “My mom is white, my dad is black with Asian and Native American mixed in,” Cheyenne said.

Both had prolific college careers. Tiger was a super stud at Stanford and Cheyenne's a two-time All-American at Wake Forest and boasts the lowest single-season scoring average (73.47) and career average (74.31) in Wake Forest history. She turned pro shortly after graduating in May 2012.

Cheyenne was bred to be a golf star by her grandfather Earl, in the same Cypress, Calif., garage that Tiger got his introduction to the craft. She came into the game already having trained on hallowed ground, and while the world became consumed in her uncle’s meteoric rise, at the age of eight Cheyenne inauspiciously began her career and shot a 98 at her first tournament. It wasn’t a platinum performance, but that didn’t matter to the unflappable and cocky Earl whom Cheyenne calls in an interview with golfdigest.com, “the best grandpa ever! Big teddy bear.”

“I miss him,” she reflects. “He told me that when I was 3, he wrote a letter to IMG telling them they should sign me right then. He also told me I'd be on the LPGA Tour.”

By age 10 she had won The US Kids Golf World Championship and was on her way.

Besides for the obvious gender differences, Cheyenne’s personality is also unique from her uncle’s. While Tiger flexes his Type-A personality in everything he does, Cheyenne isn’t about all of the ruckus on the greens.

Her will to win is just as ferocious, but her etiquette is less edgy. “I've never thrown a club,” Cheyenne said. “Never thought it was a good look for people. Tiger? He's a very intense person who has high expectations of himself. It's a part of him.”

She also “embraces” her blackness a bit more than her uncle chooses too. Woods has been criticized in the past for correcting people who categorize him as “African-American.” Who can forget the Oprah Winfrey Show interview that had the hood bugging when he said he wasn’t black: "Growing up, I came up with this name, Tiger told her:” I'm a `Cablinasian."

Woods said the name best captures his racial composition of Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian. Cheyenne on the other hand chooses to comfortably fall into the category of being a 5-foot-6, bombshell, brown beauty with the brains and athletic brawn to match.”I embrace all cultures, she said, “but I can see myself as a role model for black people.”

Cheyenne understands that her largest impact can be accomplished by identifying with those most in need of positive examples of strong and successful women. To disassociate herself with her blackness would do nothing to empower the legions of lost African-American girls. 

Just being a Woods is Cheyenne's defining feature. It awards the Phoenix club-swinger attention and automatic credibility that other young golfers don’t enjoy. Cheyenne was even invited to meet Billy Jean King and sit on a panel with Olympic champions Summer Sanders and Jackie Joyner-Kersee for Title IX's 40th anniversary in 2012. Cheyenne was inspired and is openly grateful for the opportunities King’s life’s work has provided women in athletics. “I'm hoping I can have that kind of impact on some little girl,” Cheyenne said.

Tiger never spit such sincerities and concern for the yute dem’. Maybe Cheyenne has more Earl in her than Tiger. That’s why Earl could happily move onto his resting place knowing that he had a secret weapon, molded more perfectly in his image than even his celebrated son.

"He would have been just as proud," Susan Woods said of her late father-in-law after Cheyenne’s breakthrough victory (Cheyenne's father is Earl Woods Jr., Tiger's half brother, from whom Susan is divorced).

"I had the same feeling when Cheyenne won the ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference] championship a few years back [while at Wake Forest]. I was able to be there, and walking that whole back nine on the last day I had the same feeling in my heart that he was watching and feeling so proud. Watching online I had the same feeling. I know he would have been so proud of her."

Big Earl’s still there. He can’t integrate the game in a multitude of ways with his physical presence anymore like Richard Williams can still do at Williams Sisters tennis matches. But, even in death, his big, black presence is one that looms large in the lily-white golf world. Every once-segregated country club that Tiger waltzes into; and every tour victory he manages to scrape up and Cheyenne increasingly accumulates, gives Earl a shot to have two No.1 –ranked golfers of different genders, from the same African-American family. The Saga continues.

 

 

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