How a two-stroke penalty helped Cheyenne Woods win a U.S. Women’s Open qualifier

cheyenne woods looks away

Cheyenne Woods' back luck turned to good at a U.S. Women's Open qualifier.

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Few, if any, golfers can claim to have been helped by a two-stroke penalty in competition. Fewer still can claim to have been helped by incurring a two-stroke penalty during a 36-hole, do-or-die U.S. Open qualifier.

Cheyenne Woods is one of those golfers.

Woods, the 30-year-old niece of the 15-time major champion, won her U.S. Women’s Open qualifier Monday at Spring Lake Golf Club in New Jersey in routine fashion — a five-stroke throttling that helped her earn a spot in this year’s national championship. But, according to Golfweek, her performance came thanks to an unusual catalyst: a two-stroke penalty.

On the 7th of her first 18 holes, a long par-4, Woods and her playing partner both hit their approach shots right of a blind green. When they approached the putting surface, the two players found one ball on the green and another in the rough. Woods, who’d hit a poor second shot, assumed her ball was in the rough and played her third shot. But when the two players approached the green, they realized Woods had played her playing partner’s ball, violating rule 6.3 of the Rules of Golf and incurring a two-stroke penalty.

For many golfers, a two-stroke penalty in a make-or-break event (one in which only two players from a field of contenders would earn entry into the U.S. Women’s Open field) would be reason enough for a meltdown. But for Woods, the penalty served the opposite effect, instead forming the catalyst around which her qualifying effort would take shape.

She birdied both holes after the wrong ball dilemma, eventually finishing her opening round at one over, including the two-stroke penalty.

“Honestly, I feel like the penalty really dialed in my focus and got me a little angry,” Woods told Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols. “Where I just wanted to just play my way in.”

Woods’ game got even hotter on her second 18, shooting a four-under 69 to finish the 36-hole tournament at three under, good enough for first place and an invite to the Olympic Club for this year’s U.S. Women’s Open.

Sure, the penalty isn’t something Cheyenne Woods would like to make a habit, but at Monday’s U.S. Women’s Open qualifier, it was the kick she needed to earn an entrance into the third women’s major of 2021.

James Colgan Editor

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at