Twenty-four-year-old pro golfer Cheyenne Woods has quickly been named one to watch on the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) tour. But it's her mission to demystify the sport she loves—making it more accessible for women and minorities alike—that makes her a true standout.
The Wake Forest University grad and niece of Tiger Woods is only the sixth African American player in LPGA history, and she's doing all she can to show that women just like her can play the game—and can be damn good at it, too.
We caught up with the athlete to talk about everything from golf's intimidation factor to why she started playing in the first place. (It mayyyy have had something to do with her uncle.)
We have to ask—did your interest in golf spring up independently?
"Well, when I started playing, Tiger had just started up. I was about five years old, and he started to become really, really popular—so I'd always see him on TV. For me, being that young, I thought it was so cool that I had an uncle that was so famous. I would go to school every day and tell everyone that I had a famous uncle, show them who he was—so that initially made me want to get out there and learn more about golf and really get into the sport. And I wanted to be on the LPGA, too. I wanted to play on TV, I wanted to play in front of thousands of people, because I saw Tiger doing it all the time. Nobody else in my family played golf, so when I looked at him I was like, 'Wow that's so cool.' So my mom and I would learn together from the beginning on what I needed to do—but obviously, it started to become more real and change."
What's it like to be another golfer in the Woods family?
"The legacy for me—it's just an honor to be a part of that. To be a part of the Woods family and what that means in the golf world. So now that I'm playing in the LPGA and it's my rookie year, it's exciting to kind of get my legacy started and to create that name for myself."
Golf kind of has this reputation of being inaccessible—it feels out of reach. What are your thoughts on that?
"I would say golf is definitely intimidating. It's a hard sport and it seems elite, because it's expensive. When you go to the golf course you either have to have golf clubs or rent them and kind of know what you're doing, or know somebody who knows what they're doing—it's not like a bowling alley where you can just go and kind of mess around and play. So, I get that. But I think there are a lot of great programs popping up, and I think that's a great way to introduce it, to integrate it, and for it to become more of a friendly game—more democratized. I grew up playing in those LPGA Girls Golf clubs, and The First Tee, which are both national golf programs for kids, and it makes it more accessible for everyone. They make it more like an everyday thing, so it's not something that you only watch on TV, or something that you think only certain type of people are able to play, because that's kind of the stereotype that golf has. So I think that that's a way to begin changing who's playing the game and who's able to play. And then I think things like TopGolf (an entertainment venue with golf games), which is becoming really big nowadays, is bringing golf into popular culture, which is great to see. It's bringing people into the game who have never played golf before and introducing them to something new."
Did you only ever play golf growing up or did you play other sports as well?
"When I was young, my whole family played sports. So I was definitely going to play something, and I started with golf. That was the first sport I played—then I was introduced to basketball, I played volleyball, I ran track for a few years and a year in high school, and I danced hip-hop and jazz competitively. My mom really wanted me to get a taste of everything: 'Anything you want to do, go ahead and try it.' And then when I got to high school, I had to focus on one or the other, so I chose golf—that was the one thing I always saw myself pursuing after college. So once I got a taste of everything I kind of knew what I liked, knew what I didn't like, and could go from there. I'm thankful that I had the opportunity to play different sports, and kind of have that well-roundedness, so I know what it's like to play on a team, to have a coach that's giving you plays or whatnot…Being a golfer is a very individual sport, so you're used to playing for yourself, by yourself, on a course, but for me I loved being on a team, and in college I was able to be on a team, too, but I think having different sports in my background has helped me to be a better golfer."
What else do you do in your free time, when you're not golfing?
"When I'm home, I spend a lot of time with family, and I go hiking a lot. I'm from Phoenix, so there are a lot of trails, a lot of mountains that I go hiking every week. And I love to work out and run, so I'm in the gym a lot or just outside doing something. I love playing sports and just being outside and being active. And besides that, I love to bake, I love to try different recipes. I love to get my nails done and my hair done. Girl stuff. And that's really it. Because we travel a lot of the year, when I'm home I love to just take that time to be home and enjoy being with my friends and family."
What's been your favorite place you've traveled to?
"Probably South Africa. I've played there a few years and I just love the energy, and the culture is so different, and so welcoming and friendly—and it's beautiful there, too. I love going back."
You said you love getting your hair and nails done—what are some of your favorite products?
"I love OPI nail polish—I love having my nails done for every tournament. And my hair products—I love using Shea Moisture. My hair is naturally curly so when it's curly I use that a lot to keep the moisture and keep the curls healthy, and then a lot of natural stuff like coconut oil and Moroccan oil, just because I use a lot of heat on my hair, and I want to avoid split ends."
What do you hope you achieve in your career? What's the legacy you want to leave?
"I would love to show that golf is for everybody. No matter where you're from or your background or who you are—whether you're a woman or you're from the inner-city where you've never even seen a golf course before—there are so many new opportunities in this sport. You get to meet new people and you can even gain a college scholarship. For me, golf has done so much in terms of the opportunities it's given me, and I would love for other people to be able to experience that."
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Samantha Leal is the Deputy Editor at Well+Good, where she spends most of her day thinking of new ideas across platforms, bringing on new writers, overseeing the day-to-day of the website, and working with the awesome team to produce the best stories and packages. Before W+G, she was the Senior Web Editor for Marie Claire and the Deputy Editor for Latina.com, with bylines all over the internet. Graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University with a minor in African history, she’s written everything from travel guides to political op-eds to wine explainers (currently enrolled in the WSET program) to celebrity profiles. Find her online pretty much everywhere @samanthajoleal.
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