Canadian golf fans lined the ropes cheering Brooke Henderson’s name as the Manulife LPGA Classic opened Thursday, but the 17-year-old rising star didn’t show them the round she had hoped for. Instead, it was Cheyenne Woods, the niece of Tiger Woods, providing the day’s biggest surprise.
Henderson, of Smiths Falls, Ont., missed some short putts and shot a one-under 71 in the opening round, finishing in 86th place. Woods, a 24-year-old Tour rookie, tied a competitive course record at Whistle Bear Golf Club with a nine-under 63 to earn her first lead in an LPGA event. She had a solo grip on the lead until two others tied her late in the day: P.K. Kongkraphan of Thailand (another first-time leader) and fellow American Cristie Kerr, a veteran of 13 titles on the Tour.
Woods, the daughter of Tiger’s half-brother Earl Dennison Woods Jr., had missed her past five cuts on the Tour. She has never won an LPGA tournament or had a top-10 finish, and her career earnings on Tour total just $20,999 (U.S.). Yet, Woods played as if she were a veteran on Thursday, with excellent putting leading the way as well as hitting 100 per cent of her fairways.
She is just the sixth African-American to play on the LPGA Tour and hopes to become the first to win a title there. She chalked up Thursday’s success to playing totally relaxed.
“I didn’t feel like it was anything spectacular,” Woods said. “I was just out there playing golf and making putts.”
Woods shares a resemblance to her famous uncle and sports a similar Nike look. She first swung a golf club when she was two in the California garage of her paternal grandfather, Earl Woods Sr., Tiger’s father. It was the same spot where he had set up netting for Tiger’s practice area when the youngster started taking his first stunning cuts.
Earl Sr. didn’t coach his granddaughter, but he bought her some clubs by age six and set her up with a swing coach in Arizona. She eventually went on to star in high school and then at Wake Forest University.
The Phoenix native just earned her LPGA card in December after her third attempt at qualifying school finished with a dramatic, Tiger-like comeback. Usually, LPGA Q-school would not make headlines, but her triumph did. She overcame a second-round 79 to fire a third-round 67 and final-round 70 that included birdies on the 13th and 16th holes to avoid a seven-player playoff.
She seemed to channel that same hunger on Thursday at Whistle Bear. After the round, she was still giddy about the backstage pass that landed her a meeting with Canadian rapper Drake on Tuesday after his concert in Toronto. She was asked what was more exciting.
“I’d have to say the course record,” Woods said with a laugh. “Sorry, Drake.”
Another trailblazer had her best day on Tour and scored right behind Woods. Laetitia Beck, the first Israeli to play on the LPGA Tour, shot an eight-under 66, her best round on the tour by six shots. She’s tied for second with Sandra Gal of Germany.
Beck grew up in Caesarea, a town of about 4,500 on the Israeli coast, midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, home of her country’s only 18-hole golf course. She left there at 14 to pursue golf more seriously at IMG Academy in Florida, and then played at Duke University. She often trains in Montreal, where she says she likes to be part of the Jewish community.
“We don’t have that many golfers, but I’m hoping that I will help golf in Israel,” Beck said. “I hope it will change the Israeli mentality and what they think of golf.”
Alena Sharp was the low Canadian on Thursday, shooting a five-under 67. Other Canadians were Natalie Gleadall (68), Sue Kim (69), Sara-Maude Juneau (71), Lorie Kane (72), Brittany Henderson (72), Jennifer Kirby (72), Rebecca Lee Bentham (73), and Augusta James (76).Report Typo/Error