FOR WOODS, SI­LENCE IS OLDEN

Cheyenne, Tiger’s niece, no longer keeps her thoughts on racism to her­self

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - Twit­ter: @nrar­mour NANCY AR­MOUR

There was a time when Cheyenne Woods thought it best to keep her thoughts to her­self, par­tic­u­larly when it came to tak­ing on racism and in­equal­ity. She has re­al­ized, how­ever, that that’s a lux­ury she can’t af­ford. No one can.

On “Chang­ing the Game,” a new pod­cast from USA To­day Sports, the pro­fes­sional golfer spoke about us­ing her plat­form, whether it’s to spot­light sys­temic racism or the con­tin­ued lack of di­ver­sity in the sport she loves.

“You’re go­ing to get the back­lash,’’ Woods said. ‘‘You’re go­ing to get the com­ments and the neg­a­tiv­ity. And it’s scary to put your­self out there. This time it does feel dif­fer­ent. So many peo­ple are speak­ing out, and I don’t care if you like what I say or not. I truly be­lieve that this is what’s right, and it’s in my heart.

“And if I lose, as I have, thou­sands of fol­low­ers be­cause I’m speak­ing up about what I be­lieve is im­por­tant and right in the world, I don’t care if you un­fol­low me. I don’t care if you don’t sup­port me. Be­cause I truly feel like I’m on the right side of his­tory in terms of sup­port­ing Amer­i­cans and Black Amer­i­cans and what’s go­ing on in the world to­day.”

Woods, in her eighth year as a pro­fes­sional, had hoped to play her way back onto the LPGA Tour this year. She’s a mem­ber of the Symetra Tour, a de­vel­op­men­tal tour, and can also play on the Euro­pean tour.

But com­mis­sioner Mike Whan an­nounced in May that sta­tus on all tours would be frozen be­cause of the COVID-19 pan­demic, and there would be no Q-school. That means Woods will have to play what­ever tour­na­ments she can to stay in com­pet­i­tive shape and fo­cus on next sea­son.

“You have to just press pause and find your­self out­side of golf and find things that can ful­fill you when golf is not al­ways there,” she said.

Woods has spent part of her down­time fo­cus­ing on the pod­cast she hosts with Doug Smith, “Birdies Not BS.” Af­ter the deaths of Ge­orge Floyd and Bre­onna Tay­lor sparked protests through­out the coun­try, Woods and Smith de­voted an episode to the lack of di­ver­sity in golf.

She also par­tic­i­pated in Race Fore Unity, a vir­tual fundraiser to ben­e­fit Girls Golf ’s Re­nee Pow­ell Grant, which helps pro­vide ac­cess to the game to Black girls.

“A lot of my gen­er­a­tion started play­ing golf be­cause of Tiger Woods,’’ she said. ‘‘But you haven’t al­ways seen the domino ef­fect, the rip­ple ef­fect in the broader game or in­dus­try. So it’s dis­ap­point­ing.’’

For her in par­tic­u­lar be­cause, yes, she’s a Woods as in Tiger Woods. The 15-time ma­jor cham­pion is her un­cle, and they both learned the game from Earl Woods.

“There have been a lot of in­ter­nal con­ver­sa­tions within the Tour, in the golf in­dus­try in gen­eral, of, ‘What can we truly do?’ ” she said.

“Girls Golf is com­ing up with a grant that will be sup­port­ing Black girls play­ing golf and help­ing them gain ac­cess to the sport. And I think that’s what it truly takes: Let’s specif­i­cally try to get Black girls into the game and sup­port them fi­nan­cially. Give them a space where they can come in. We have to be a lit­tle more hands-on than we have. And it’s ex­cit­ing for me to see those con­ver­sa­tions be­ing had now.”

Woods was al­most 7 when her un­cle won his first Masters, so she has been get­ting ques­tions about him for as long as she can re­mem­ber. While she un­der­stands the in­ter­est — par­tic­u­larly since she, too, is a golfer — and doesn’t mind talk­ing about him, she has worked hard to es­tab­lish her own iden­tity.

She won in­di­vid­ual and team ACC ti­tles when she was at Wake For­est. She has been a pro­fes­sional for al­most eight years and won the Aus­tralian Ladies Masters in 2014.

But Woods also rec­og­nizes the op­por­tu­nity her last name pro­vides. She knows there are peo­ple who wouldn’t nor­mally watch women’s golf but will watch a tour­na­ment she’s play­ing in sim­ply to see how “Tiger’s niece” does. If that helps grow the game, she’s OK with that.

So, too, if her last name am­pli­fies her calls for equal­ity and di­ver­sity. Once re­luc­tant to voice her opin­ion, Woods now wants to be heard loud and clear.

‘‘WE HAVE TO BE A LIT­TLE MORE HANDSON THAN WE HAVE. AND IT’S EX­CIT­ING FOR ME TO SEE THOSE CON­VER­SA­TIONS BE­ING HAD NOW.’’ CHEYENNE WOODS, on get­ting more Black girls to par­tic­i­pate in golf

GETTY IM­AGES

Cheyenne Woods was al­most 7 when Tiger Woods won his first Masters.

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