Wake Forest announced that Cheyenne Woods had signed a letter of intent last November. It got her an interview with USA Today and Golfer Girl, but didn't make that huge a splash.
So why is it that stories about her going to Wake Forest have begun circulating recently? Why is it that Golf Channel just did a feature on her?
Well, she did just win the 9th annual Bill Dickey Invitational, following up on her second straight Arizona state high school title. But she is only ranked 52nd in the latest Golfweek/Titleist Performance Index, behind such big names in girls' golf as Kimberly Kim (#1), Tiffany Lua (#2), Alexis Thompson (#4), Kristen Park (#14), Jessica Korda (#26), Marika Lendl (#30), and Jenny Shin (#49). And she's #60 in the Polo Rankings of the American Junior Golf Association, with a 74.69 scoring average and 2 top 5s in 9 starts, well behind all the usual suspects except Shin (#61). Kim, by the way, is #20 in the last updated Golfweek/Titleist Women's Amateur Rankings, while Lua is T43, which suggests that Woods ranks somewhere among the top 1000 amateur women golfers in the U.S. right now.
But where? Well, last year she missed the cut by 4 shots in the 59th U.S. Girls Junior Championship, finishing T89 (+11) in the stroke play portion of the event, which was 3 shots worse than she had done the previous year, when she made the cut on the dot at T57 and fell 1-down to Lindy Duncan in the first match-play round. But considering that she failed to qualify in 2005 and missed the cut in 2004 by 2 shots, it's no surprise that she hasn't qualified for any U.S. Women's Amateur, much less a U.S. Women's Open, in her short amateur career. So it's certainly fair to say she is not among the top 175 female amateurs in the U.S. and may not even be among the top 400.
How does she compare to Mika Miyazato and Kumiko Kaneda, two of the top Japanese women's amateurs? Woods and Miyazato both competed in the 2007 Girls 15-17 Junior World Golf Championship, where the latter finished at -4 (T4, 11 shots behind winner Ha-Na Jang), while the former was +6 (T16). Miyazato's best round of the 4 they played at Torrey Pines was a 67, 5 shots better than Woods's best. Still, this was a much better result for Woods than the previous year, when she missed the cut after going +8 through 3 rounds while Miyazato won it with a final-round 68 that got her to -16 (1 shot ahead of Ayaka Kaneko and 3 up on Ya Ni Tseng). In 2005, Woods played in the Girls 13-14 bracket and finished +7 in 3 rounds (T7, 9 shots behind winner Elisa Aoki). Again, this was a big improvement on her showing the year before, when she was +13 (T23), well behind Kumiko Kaneka, who lapped the field at -5. The same pattern held in her years in the 11-12 bracket: first a missed cut, then a T2.
Several things are worth noting about Woods's record to date in major junior events. In a golfing world packed with talented teenage girls, she's no prodigy. So it's no shock that she's not getting sponsors' exemptions into LPGA events, as Miyazato and Kaneko have been getting on the JLPGA for years. But she has shown the capacity to improve at every level at which she's competed. So the fact that she's so far behind her top peers right now should be no cause for concern. People and golfers develop at different rates and Woods has indicated she's in this for the long haul. I wish her the best in her college career and hope that she continues to have as normal a life as is possible for Tiger Woods's niece until she's old enough to buy a drink. If she can get as much out of college golf as someone like Stacy Lewis clearly has, she should realize her dream of joining the LPGA sometime next decade. But it'll be a lot of hard work for her between now and then. And there are no guarantees.
[Update 1 (7/17/08, 2:05 am): Nice piece from ESPN The Magazine on Cheyenne and Tiger and Earl.]
[Update 2 (9/16/08, 12:12 pm): Golf Babes had a sensible response to the AP coverage of her 1st college tournament.]
[Update 3 (7:33 pm): And here's Brent Kelley from About.com.]