Michael Hopper Captures 44th Southwest PGA Match Play Championship in Epic Fashion
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – If someone would have told Dennis Downs before the final match he would shoot 65, make eight birdies and only one bogey, be 4 up through nine holes and lose, he would think you’re crazy – but that’s exactly what happened.
Michael Hopper shot a 29 on the back nine that included six birdies and an eagle and rallied to win the 44th Southwest PGA Match Play Championship in 19 holes at Ancala Country Club in Scottsdale.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Hopper. “That was the craziest match I’ve ever been a part of. Dennis played so good. He made those four birdies on the front nine and I made a couple bogeys and before I knew what hit me I was 4 down at the turn heading to the back nine.”
After both players started off the day with pars on the opening hole, Downs went 1 up on the second after Hopper made bogey following his chip and two-putt. After both birdied the short par-5 3rd hole, Downs went on to win the next two holes that included a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 5.
Just like that Hopper was 3 down after five holes.
Both Hopper, 34, PGA Assistant Golf Professional at Lookout Mountain Golf Club in Phoenix, and Downs, 36, PGA Assistant Golf Professional at Eagle's Nest at Pebble Creek in Goodyear, Ariz., made birdie on No. 6 after driving the 312-yard green with their tee shots.
Downs made his fourth birdie of the front side on the 520-yard, par-5 7th hole, and after Hopper missed his birdie offering, Downs was 4 up – where the match remained following matching pars on the remaining two holes on the front side.
“I tried not to think too much when I was 4 up after nine holes,” said Downs. “There were times out there when one of us would hit it real close and the other one would make a sick putt or chip it in to halve the hole. It was that kind of crazy match so I knew anything could happen on the back nine.”
“On the front nine I started out hitting the ball pretty good,” Hopper said. “I did make some mistakes with a couple pretty easy up and downs that I didn’t get. I felt like I gave Dennis those couple holes on the front, which is very disappointing because I don’t like to give away any holes in match play.”
On No. 10 Hopper hit his approach shot to a foot, leaving Downs with a 15-footer to halve the hole. Downs was up to the task, dropping his attempt in the center of the cup – momentarily dashing any of Hopper’s hopes for a comeback.
Hopper got one back at No. 11 with a birdie at the 191-yard, par-3 and made birdie again at No. 13 cutting the deficit to 2 down.
The 488-yard, par-5 14th hole ended up being similar to No. 10. Hopper was able to reach the green in two while Downs pulled his offering left and ended up in the greenside bunker. Downs’ third shot came up short and he was left with a 15-footer for birdie. Following Hopper’s noble eagle attempt, Downs conceded birdie and consequently rolled in his birdie to halve the hole with Hopper.
“When I hit it close on No. 10 I thought there was a good chance I would win that hole,” said Hopper. “Of course Dennis then makes a 15-footer to halve me. Then on 14 the same thing happens and I’m still 2 down but through all that I felt there were still holes left and there would be some really good birdie opportunities. I felt I was going to be aiming right at the pin on the last four holes and hope for the best.”
Hopper made a mistake on No. 15 hitting his drive in the right desert. With Downs safely on the green in two, Hopper took another desert swing before attempting to save par with a chip the length of the green. He didn’t and both players conceded each other putts. Downs was now dormie – 3 up with three holes remaining.
“When I got to 16 I was three down with three to play,” Hopper said. “There is no secret of what I needed to do. I honestly did think if I can go eagle, birdie, birdie I might have a chance.”
With Downs only needing to halve one hole for the victory, Hopper would have to do something dramatic to win the final three holes.
On the short 475-yard, par-5 16th, both hit their drives a touch left and ended up in the fairway bunker. Downs, playing first, smoothed an approach safely to the center of the green, stick perched back left. Hopper, taking a more aggressive line, dropped his offering left of the pin, leaving him with a 15-foot eagle putt. Downs’ eagle putt missed while Hopper’s found the bottom of the cup, now 2 down with 2 to play.
Hopper went on to win the next hole with a birdie at the par-3 17th hole after Downs missed the green, resulting in the only bogey he had in the final match.
Still one down at the difficult 18th hole, both players found the fairway with their tee shots. Hopper, first to play, overshot the green by three yards and Downs found the difficult greenside bunker. After a great shot out of the sand by Downs left him a 10-footer for par, Hopper removed the flag before setting up for his chip shot. He took a couple practice swings and let it fly where it took a couple bounces and rolled in the center of the cup for birdie. The match was even going back to No. 1 for extra holes.
On the first extra hole, both Hopper and Downs hit perfect drives and approach shots to the green. Hopper was first to putt with a 10-foot downhill birdie attempt, which he made. Downs, who had a seven-footer for birdie, pushed it right and one of the most epic final matches in Southwest PGA history was over.
“When I was dormie at 16 I wanted to just play it safe and make him hit the tough shot,” Downs said. “Unfortunately, at Nos. 17 and 18, I tried to do that but just didn’t execute my shot. Credit to Mike, he took it today. He took it and I’m really happy for him. I don’t know what to say. It was probably the best match I ever had. We both played so well.”
“The last four years I’ve played amazing in the match play,” said Hopper. “I want to win them all and I let the one last year get away from me and I was still kind of feeling that, especially when I was 4 down today, but it’s awesome to bounce back and get the win.”
Playing in his fourth consecutive match play final, Hopper captured his fourth Southwest PGA Match Play title (2011, 2016, 2017), which are second most in the history of the Championship to John Jackson’s five.
“It means a lot to me, it really does,” said Hopper following the match. “John Jackson has five titles and now I have four. It’ll be really cool when I’m older if people are saying, ‘Oh look this person is trying to catch Mike Hopper’s match play title record.’ That would be pretty cool.”
At the end of the day both players shot 65 in regulation and combined for 17 birdies and an eagle.
“Dennis played super solid today,” said Hopper. “That was the most frustrating for me on the front nine where I made silly bogeys and knew he wasn’t going to make any bogeys. Some of those putts he made was absurd. I’m so happy he was able to play this week and we had this epic match that I will never forget.”
“I didn’t know if I was going to play this week because my wife is expecting and is due at any moment,” said Downs. “I feel very blessed making it all the way to the finals, going 19 holes and finishing as the runner-up. Many thanks to my wife and mother-in-law for holding down the fort, which allowed me to be here all week.”
In the morning semifinal matches that featured three of the top four seeds in the Championship, Downs defeated No. 24 Reed Black, 30, PGA Assistant Golf Professional at Paradise Valley (Ariz.) C.C., 5 and 3. In the other semifinal, Hopper defeated No. 3 Chris Dompier, 42, PGA Head Golf Professional at Skyline C.C. in Tucson, in 19 holes
Special thanks to the entire membership and staff at Ancala Country Club for their hospitality and generosity in hosting the 44th Southwest PGA Match Play Championship.
Final Match Results
(2), Michael HOPPER, 34, Phoenix, AZ, Lookout Mountain GC, def. (4), Dennis DOWNS, 36, Surprise, AZ, Eagles Nest GC, 19 Holes
(4), Dennis DOWNS, 36, Surprise, AZ, Eagles Nest GC, def. (24), Reed BLACK, 30, Scottsdale, AZ, Paradise Valley CC, 5&3
(2), Michael HOPPER, 34, Phoenix, AZ, Lookout Mountain GC, def. (3), Chris DOMPIER, 42, Marana, AZ, Skyline CC, 19 Holes
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