When Seth Gandy committed to play golf for the Charlotte 49ers, he was excited for the chance to compete for a university less than a half-hour from his Huntersville home.
At the time, he didn’t know he would be crossing 13 times zones to play his first collegiate golf tournament.
On Sept. 10-12, Gandy and the 49ers traveled almost 7,000 miles to compete in the Topy Cup at Tanagura Country Club in Tanagura, Japan. Charlotte finished sixth out of 10 American and Japanese college teams.
Being invited to play in such a prestigious event speaks to the solid reputation the 49ers have built in college golf over the past 10 years. The five players who represented Charlotte appreciated playing in the Topy Cup as the opportunity of a lifetime.
Still, coach Ryan Cabbage wishes the 49ers could have turned in better overall results in the three-round tournament.
Gandy, a freshman, carded Charlotte’s best final-round score, an even-par 70. Senior Franco Castro had the 49ers’ best tournament result, finishing tied for 10th with a three-day score of 2-under-par 208.
Playing good golf was the goal, but the tournament’s host committee also coordinated a couple of days of sightseeing after the event’s conclusion.
Charlotte, like the other the American teams – Alabama-Birmingham and Washington – had to endure some logistical challenges before, during and after the tournament.
The American teams had the disadvantage of a lengthy plane ride before opening play. When the 49ers opened play at 8 a.m. Sept. 10, it was still 7p.m. in Charlotte.
Charlotte’s student-athletes had to inform their professors of their trip and keep up with their schoolwork during their weeklong absence.
Rebounding from their re-entry into the Eastern time zone on Sept. 14 may have been the most difficult component of the trip.
Accompanied by Cabbage and assistant coach Joey Maxon, five of the nine players on Charlotte’s roster earned the right to attend by playing qualifying rounds before the trip.
Essentially playing a pair of three-round tournaments, Castro won the first tourney, and sophomore Dan Hendry won the second to earn two of the team’s spots.
Rounding out Charlotte’s world travelers were Gandy and sophomores Daniel Brantley and Thomas Rowland.
The Topy Cup’s format is designed to have two Japanese teams play with two American teams. Gandy said the language barrier limited players to friendly hand gestures, like a thumbs up, when an opponent fired a good shot.
Gandy and Castro agreed that the main difference between the Japanese and American players is that the American players are bigger hitters off the tee, and the Japanese players are more precise with their drives.
“The course wasn’t very long, but it was narrow,” said Castro, who played in his first overseas tournament. “The first couple of days, I played well. But the third day, I couldn’t get anything going. Overall it was a good start to the season.”
Castro put himself in contention to win the tournament with rounds of 66 and 68 heading into the final day. He got off to a slow start in the third round, however, and finished with a 74.
Tanagura is in the Japanese mountains, about three hours north of Tokyo. On the players’ off days, they took a bullet train to Tokyo for sightseeing.
Making the greatest impression on Gandy was standing atop the 1,000-foot-tall Tokyo Tower overlooking the city.
“I’m not a big fan of heights,” said Gandy. “So it was a little bit of a struggle.”
Cabbage, beginning his third season with Charlotte, said he hopes his team will achieve new heights throughout the rest of the fall and spring seasons. The team has reached the NCAA postseason 10 straight years.
“Overall, the trip was a good starting point,” said Cabbage. “We were able to see where we are and where we need to get to. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”
The 49ers have three more fall tournaments after playing in the Rees Jones Collegiate Sept. 20-22 at Daufuskie Island, S.C.