The hooting, hollering and slapping of high-fives from the guys in forest green shirts and white shorts echoed throughout Finley Golf Club in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Birdie after birdie was posted by the Charlotte men’s golf team on the final day of the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional. Against a field including No. 1 Florida State, No. 11 Stanford and No. 19 North Carolina, the 49ers posted the low final round to win the championship, their first in school history.
Proving that rankings can be just a number, the nation’s 50th-ranked team is aiming for even more success in this week’s NCAA championships. Through the first round of the tournament, Wiggins is tied for 133rd with an 8-over 80.
“We all realize that we took down the No. 1 team in the nation, Stanford as well as Carolina on their home course,” said Charlotte sophomore Victor Wiggins, who finished tied for fourth thanks to two rounds of 68. “We are a good team and we are going to make a lot of noise.”
This time last year you didn’t hear a peep from Wiggins. The Gastonia, N.C., native wasn’t even on a team, choosing exile from a place he initially thought “couldn’t go wrong.”
As a U.S. Amateur qualifier, a PGA Junior Championship player and five-time winner on the National Junior Golf Tour, Wiggins was able to write his own ticket to almost any college golf program in the country. He chose Auburn for the nice practice facility, the football team’s success, the beautiful campus and the small town atmosphere. But the biggest reason Wiggins wanted to be an Auburn Tiger was the rapport he developed with head coach Nick Clinard, also a Gastonia native, during the recruiting process.
“We had a really good relationship,” Wiggins said. “We had a moment when we both knew it felt right. I took other visits. I knew that Chapel Hill and Duke were also possibilities but Auburn was the best opportunity. It was the best fit. It was an SEC school; you couldn’t go wrong.”
But it did. Wiggins never cracked Auburn’s five-man starting lineup. He played in three events and competed in those as an individual.
Suddenly it didn’t matter that Auburn had a 8,000-square foot technically advanced teaching center. It didn’t matter that the lemonade at Toomer’s Drug Store tasted so good. It didn’t matter that Chris Davis returned a missed field goal for a touchdown against Alabama to give Auburn’s its greatest Iron Bowl victory. Wiggins wasn’t playing; wasn’t doing what he came to Auburn to do and it hurt.
“I got knocked down at Auburn pretty hard,” Wiggins said. “It was a position I had never been in before in my life. I should have been one of the top five guys in the lineup at Auburn. Between me and coach there were disagreements on a few things. I didn’t see that changing over the course of four years.”
Wiggins decided to transfer. The most integral pieces of Wiggins’ golf development were back in Gastonia: his golf coach Chris Leatherman and mental coach Jon Sielsky. Clemson, Duke, North Carolina and UNC Greensboro were possibilities but Leatherman and Sielsky would be at least two hours away.
“I had been away from home and it failed,” Wiggins said. “Why would I go somewhere else and go through that same thing again. It was imperative that (Leatherman and Sielsky) be part of my team.”
Meanwhile, Charlotte’s campus was a 35 minutes away. After their first conversation, it was clear that 49ers head coach Ryan Cabbage understood Wiggins’ situation. Cabbage guaranteed Wiggins could earn a spot in the 49ers’ starting lineup and was willing to be on Wiggins’ team of coaches.
In his 49ers debut, Wiggins won the Gopher Invitational in Minnesota at 5-under-par while the 49ers placed third. Wiggins has started every tournament this season with five finished in the top 10 and a 72.32 scoring average. He is ranked 130th in the country but as the 49ers proved in Chapel Hill rankings are sometimes just a number.
“I learned a lot through it,” Wiggins said. “It’s a feeling that I never want to feel again. It pushed me everyday to get better. I’m mentally stronger because of it. Getting knocked down, you get back up.”