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49ers’ golf team set for opening round of NCAA championships

Charlotte 49ers golf coach Ryan Cabbage
Charlotte 49ers golf coach Ryan Cabbage Charlotte Sports Information

Coach Ryan Cabbage had a notion that Charlotte’s men’s golf team could do something great this season – that is, if all the pieces fell into place.

Well, the pieces fell into place for the 49ers at the right time, and in a big way.

Charlotte’s win at the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional on May 16 – and against two of the nation’s top 10 teams – sends the 49ers on to this weekend’s NCAA championships at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla.

Charlotte rode a season-best opening round to the lead, then held on to beat seventh-ranked Stanford by five strokes and Florida State – the nation’s No. 1 team in the Golfstat computer rankings – by eight shots.

“We just happened to have a week when, all of a sudden, all the pieces came together,” said Cabbage, whose team will be paired with South Florida and Ala.-Birmingham Friday at 8:40 a.m., for the first round of individual stroke play. “We knew that once that happened, the sky was the limit.

“All spring, I felt we were trending in the right direction; it was just a matter of when would we peak, and if it was at the right time. Fortunately for us, it was in Chapel Hill.”

The 49ers opened the regional by shooting a 13-under-par 275 in the first round at North Carolina’s Finley Golf Course – the best round under par by Charlotte this season, and the seventh-best by score in program history.

But the next day, the 49ers slumped, shooting a 3-over-par 291 – a 16-shot swing that left Charlotte one stroke behind Stanford, which had bounced back from an opening day 2-over 290 to shoot a 13-under 275.

The 49ers had been on top of the regional leader board before – two years ago, they were leading the Ohio State Regional after the first round, only to falter over the final two days and finish out of the running.

But Cabbage had a different feeling this time .

“I felt pretty comfortable after that first round and the position we were in,” said Cabbage, who was hired by Charlotte in 2011 after 10 years as an assistant at Auburn. “Also, where we were as a program, as a team, I really had a quiet confidence in what those guys were doing and would do.”

The 49ers delivered, shooting a 9-under 279 – their second-best round of the season – while Stanford managed a 3-under 285, putting the regional title in Charlotte’s hands with a three-day total of 845.

“Throughout the season, we never played good as a team; we’ve had individuals who played good, but not the team,” said sophomore Victor Wiggins, a Gastonia native who transferred from Auburn after his freshman year.

“That second round, it could’ve easily gotten away from us. But I’m proud of the guys for holding it together, and turning it around the next day. We kept believing, and it finally clicked.”

The NCAA championships begin Friday with the first of four stroke-play rounds. After the third round, the field is cut to the top 15 teams and nine individuals, then cut again following the fourth round to the top eight teams.

Those eight teams then enter match-play competition, also held at The Concession Golf Club, with the quarterfinals and semifinals on Tuesday and the championship match Wednesday.

This will be the fourth time in program history that Charlotte’s men’s golf team has advanced to the NCAA championships , and the first since 2008. The 49ers’ best finish at the NCAAs came the year before, tying for third in 2007.

Charlotte’s players would like nothing better than to improve on that finish.

“Throughout the season, we’ve had signs of playing like that,” said sophomore Seth Gandy, who played at Hough High. “Then we finally put it all together at the regional. We dominated some really good teams. It was really fun.

“We’ve been waiting for something like that for a while. It showed up at the right time.”