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Woods making a name for herself

2/9/2014 - Golf

Last April, I met Cheyenne Woods during the week of the Masters at the Golf Writers Association of America awards dinner. She was doing interviews for an online golf network.

Bright-eyed and socially engaging with a gold Rolex on her wrist, Woods told me she had plenty of length, but that her short game needed much improvement.

Of course, she wasn't just any struggling mini-tour player. She was Tiger Woods' niece, the daughter of his half-brother, Earl Woods Jr.

Woods was introduced to the game by her grandfather, Earl Woods Sr., in the same garage where Tiger first witnessed his father hitting balls into a net.

We paid close attention to Cheyenne Woods through her years on the Wake Forest golf team, where she was an All-American and All-ACC player.

In the golf world, she has carried a dual identity. She is Tiger's niece as well as a black woman with a chance of becoming only the fourth one of her race to play full-time on the LPGA Tour -- following Althea Gibson, Renee Powell and LaRee Sugg.

Now, after winning the Australian Ladies Masters on Sunday for her first professional win on a major tour, the 23-year-old Phoenix native is a step closer to fulfilling her dream of playing on the LPGA Tour.

"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," Cheyenne Woods said after shooting a 4-under 69 to finish with a 16-under total of 276.

"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."

Surely the Woods name, her uncle's fortune and outsized reach in the sport has afforded her visibility and a measure of financial security that most players of her modest professional résumé could only dream about.

But hopefully Cheyenne Woods can chart her own path. She will always be linked to her uncle, but she doesn't have to carry his burdens and hard-edged ways. She can have a normal life.

Yet the women's game needs her to succeed. While it's unrealistic to think that she could become a dominant player like her uncle, she could garner some of his mass appeal.

"My mom is white, my dad is black with Asian and Native American mixed in," Cheyenne told Golf Digest in 2012 after turning pro. "I embrace all cultures, but I can see myself as a role model for black people."

Her presence on the LPGA Tour could go a long way toward achieving this desire for black people, especially black girls, who have not have a role model in the game for many years.

In the meantime, Cheyenne Woods has to continue to sharpen her game in preparation for the much deeper U.S-based LPGA Tour, where she has tried but failed to get through the Q-school for the past two years.

She will get her chance to test her game against some of the LPGA's best, starting Thursday at the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open in Victoria.

That surname we know so well on leaderboards could soon have a regular presence in the women's game.