Cheyenne Woods, Tiger's niece, begins her pro career Thursday at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. Woods was a two-time All-American at Wake Forest. (By Rob Schumacher, for USA TODAY)
Pittsford, NY (written by Steve DiMeglio/USA Today) -- As dark clouds spit rain during Monday's pro-am of the Wegmans LPGA Championship, Cheyenne Woods was flashing a big smile with nearly every step she took up the 18th fairway.
Even though her head-to-toe Nike outfit was dripping rain, Woods nonetheless couldn't think of a better place to be this week. Starting Thursday, she will make her professional debut on a sponsor's exemption in the second LPGA tour major of the season.
And the two-time Wake Forest All-American does so a week after qualifying for the U.S. Women's Open.
"It feels a little different because this is my job now, it's my career now," said Woods, 21. "But I'm thankful for the opportunity to play this week.
"It feels a little different because more eyes are on me."
She has her uncle to thank for that. A guy named Tiger Woods.
"I remember in the first grade, I would ask my teacher if she knew who my uncle was," Woods said. "And I would ask other teachers and my friends if they knew who my uncle was."
When she started playing national tournaments at age 10, however, she started to keep her famous uncle to herself. Not because she feared extra pressure would come her way. She just didn't want "people to think I was bragging."
Now nearly everyone knows who her uncle is, and her success on the golf course hasn't gone unnoticed. At Wake Forest, she set school records for lowest single-season scoring average (73.47) and career average (74.31).
"It's never been hard being Tiger's niece, and it's never been hard to be my own person," she said. "I'm so thankful that I had those four years of college to really prepare me for the tour. Playing every week and balancing my time with academics and athletics, I think, has really helped me prepare for me for this stage. But the biggest transition I think would be getting used to the media.
"The media is something that I've dealt with since I was about 12 years old, having the last name of Woods. So that's also something I'm thankful for, to help me get ready for this stage, too."
This week's stage includes 19 of the top 25 players in the Rolex's Women's World Rankings, including No. 1 Yani Tseng, No. 2 Na Yeon Choi and No. 3 Stacy Lewis, the highest-ranked American and a winner of two of the last three tour events. But Woods said she can't control what others do, and she'll just go out and play her own game and be herself.
That just happens to be the advice she has received from her 14-time major winning uncle.
"He's always been so supportive of me," said Woods, who as a kid practiced trouble shots after seeing Tiger on TV hit a great shot from under a tree or over a tree. "He knows a lot of expectations are out there. But he just tells me to be me."
It has worked so far.
"I have dealt with it for a long time, and I have somehow been able to play my own game," she said. "That's mainly what I try to think about is play my own game and just try to do my own thing and not worry about what others are thinking."
Uncle Tiger also has given her other advice.
"He's always telling me just to kick butt," she said. "You know, Tiger is always dominating, so that is the one word of advice he would give me. He is obviously amazing at golf, and having him there and knowing I can go to him whenever I need him is nice to have."