Michael Hopper and Randy Wittig Earn Southwest PGA Player & Senior Player of the Year Honors
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – For the third consecutive year, Southwest PGA Player of the Year and Senior Player of the Year honors came down to the final event of the season. Michael Hopper leapfrogged Marty Jertson by earning 50 points in the PGA Tour’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, and by doing so, claimed his fifth Southwest PGA Player of the Year award.
“I feel incredibly fortunate to win the 2019 Southwest PGA Player of the Year,” said Hopper. “A few things went my way that put me over the top, but I was very motivated to have a great year after finishing second and third in points the last two years. The level of play in our Section is legit, as is apparent in the small difference in points going down the list. I can’t wait to get back at it in 2020.”
In a race that was even closer, Randy Wittig edged out 2018 Senior Player of the Year Ralph West by just two points after earning 25 points in the National PGA Senior Professional Championship, grabbing his second Southwest PGA Senior Player of the Year award. Both Hopper and Wittig will be honored at the Southwest PGA Special Awards Ceremony on February 20, 2020.
Hopper, 35, PGA Assistant Golf Professional at Lookout Mountain G.C. in Phoenix, took the early lead in points after competing in the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, earning the exemption with his victory in the 2018 Southwest PGA Championship.
Hopper next qualified for the National PGA Professional Championship (PPC) at Belfair in Bluffton, S.C., finishing tied for 71st in the 312-player field. He earned 75 points and maintained the lead over Jertson, 39, PGA Professional and Vice President of Fitting & Performance at PING Golf, who also qualified and finished tied for 8th, earning a spot in the 2019 PGA Championship. Hopper trailed Jertson following the PGA Championship but took the lead back after winning his fourth Southwest PGA Match Play Championship in extra holes over Dennis Downs.
Hopper, Jertson and Downs remained close in points over the next five events, including the 62nd Southwest PGA Championship/PPC, where Jertson pulled out the victory in a playoff over past champion Jesse Mueller. Downs, 37, PGA Assistant Golf Professional at Eagles Nest Golf Club, finished tied for 6th and Hopper, tied for 18th. With only the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open Section Qualifier remaining on the schedule where one Southwest PGA Professional qualifies and earns points for the Championship proper, Jertson had a 25-point lead over Hopper and 65-point lead over Downs. In the 18-hole qualifier, Jertson carded an 8-under-par 64 only to be outdone by Hopper’s 9-under 63. Hopper earned the spot in the field and the 50 points that went along with it, enough to surpass Jertson by 25 points and win his fifth Southwest PGA Player of the Year honor.
Born in Denver, Colo., Hopper and his mother moved to Port Vila, Vanuatu, when he was a couple weeks old to be with his grandfather who was a civil engineer for Asian Development Bank. It was on the south pacific island that Hopper was introduced to golf by his grandfather who cut down a 3-wood and taught him the game on the only golf course on the island.
Hopper and his family moved back to the United States in 1993. He was a member of the Bellevue (Neb.) East High School golf team and, knowing he wanted to pursue a career in golf, entered the Professional Golf Management Program at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz.
Following graduation in 2008 from Arizona State, Hopper earned his membership in the PGA of America and was hired as the PGA Head Golf Professional at Toka Sticks G.C. in Mesa, Ariz., where he served one season before moving on to Lookout Mountain where he remains today.
Among his notable tournament accomplishments in Southwest PGA, Hopper has titles in four Match Play Championships (2011, 2016, 2017, 2019), two Southwest PGA Championships (2014, 2018), three Southwest PGA Assistant Championships (2014, 2015, 2018) and he played in the PGA Tour’s 2015 & 2019 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Hopper and his wife, Angelique, live in Phoenix, and are the parents of a son, Aidan, and a daughter, Caidance.
Wittig, 59, PGA Director of Player Development at Gainey Ranch Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., trailed West the entire year in the Senior Player of the Year race. Behind by 23 points entering the final event – the National PGA Senior Professional Championship – Wittig earned 25, surpassing 62-year-old West, PGA Director of Instruction at Reid West Golf Academies, earning his second Southwest PGA Senior Player of the Year honor.
Not able to compete in the opening point event, the Arizona Senior Open Championship, Wittig got on the board in the first Senior Players Series event, finishing tied for 3rd. He followed that up with a victory, a tie for 2nd and a victory in the next three Senior Player Series events, respectively.
Still behind West with two events remaining, Wittig gained some ground after finishing tied for 6th in the Southwest PGA Senior Championship/PPC, which also serves as a qualifier for the national championship. Initially finishing as the first alternate for the National Senior PGA Professional Championship, Wittig was granted entry into the event from the PGA of America based on an additional spot added to the Southwest PGA's total. By gaining entry in the national event, Wittig earned 25 points and captured his second Southwest PGA Senior Player of the Year award over the past three years.
Born in Phoenix, Wittig was a multi-sport athlete at Shadow Mountain High School in Phoenix. He participated in one year of track, one year of football and four years of basketball and golf. Following high school he attended Phoenix College and was a member of the golf team for two years.
He began his career in golf working as outside service staff and a golf shop assistant at Scottsdale Country Club (now Starfire Golf Club). In 1983, Wittig worked as an assistant golf professional at Acacia Country Club in Lyndhurst, Ohio, where he remained for two seasons.
Wittig returned to Phoenix in 1985 after accepting a position at Orange Tree Golf Resort in Scottsdale. At Orange Tree, Wittig wore many hats during his over 26 years at the club including working as outside guest service, assistant professional, PGA Head Golf Professional, PGA Director of Golf Operations and golf event sales. He earned his membership in the PGA of America in 1990. Wittig left Orange Tree in 2011 for his current position at Gainey Ranch.
Among his many playing achievement honors, Wittig qualified for the 1998 Phoenix Open, won the 2002 Southwest PGA Match Play Championship, 2011 Southwest PGA Senior Championship, 2012 Southwest PGA Senior Match Play Championship, is a 15-time member of the Goldwater Cup and has qualified for the National PGA Senior Professional Championship five times, including four in the last five years.
Wittig remains active in the community and in the Southwest PGA having served on the Section’s board of directors for eight years (1998–2006). He currently is the Men's Head Golf Coach at Paradise Valley (Ariz.) Community College.
Wittig was honored with the 2004 Southwest PGA Bill Strausbaugh Award, presented to a PGA Member who demonstrates exceptional character, integrity and leadership by way of teaching and mentoring other PGA Professionals. He was named the 1994 Orange Tree Golf Resort Manager of the Year and the 2001 Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association Manager of the Year.
Wittig and his wife, Jeanne, live in Cave Creek, Ariz., and are the parents of a daughter, Taylor.
About The Southwest Section PGA:
The Southwest Section of the PGA of America is a professional organization serving the men and women golf professionals in Arizona and Southern Nevada who are the recognized experts in growing, teaching and managing the game of golf. The Southwest PGA is responsible for the administration of competitive golf tournaments, junior golf programs and events, educational opportunities, support programs and growth of the game initiatives. With 1284 members and associate Professionals, the Southwest PGA is the fifth largest of the 41 regional entities or Sections that comprise the PGA of America. For more information about the Southwest PGA, please visit www.southwestpga.com and join us on social media at www.facebook.com/swsectionpga, twitter.com/swsectionpga and www.instagram.com/southwestpga.
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