After a stroke play event and five matches in three days, Michael Hopper captured his second Southwest PGA Match Play Championship title defeating Blayne Hobbs 3 & 2 in the final match held at Desert Forest Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“Match play never gets easier, especially playing this golf course,” said Hopper. “Luckily today I was able to keep it in the grass, which is very important here. I just tried to make good pars and not get myself in any trouble.”
Hopper, 32, PGA assistant golf professional at Lookout Mountain Golf Club, quickly jumped out to a 3-up lead over Hobbs in the championship match after making three consecutive birdies on Nos. 4, 5 and 6. Hobbs had to take unplayable penalties on Nos. 2 & 4 after his tee shot on both holes ended up in the desert areas.
“I figured eventually someone was going to make a mistake,” Hopper said. “It’s hard to play a round at Desert Forest and not make mistakes. Unfortunately for Blayne he probably did it one too many times and that’s just the nature of the game, especially at Desert Forest.”
Hopper’s lead was short-lived as Hobbs, 51, PGA teaching professional at Reid West Golf Academies (Deer Valley), made three consecutive birdies of his own on Nos. 6, 7 and 8 and trimmed his deficit to 1 down after eight holes.
The 14-seed Hopper made birdie on the par 5, 9th hole and at the turn, was 2-up as both players headed to the back nine.
After Nos. 10 and 11 were halved, Hobbs, the 12-seed, won the 12th hole and was only 1 down in the match with six holes remaining.
Hobbs made a great par to halve No. 13 after his tee shot landed in a bush in the desert area to the right of the fairway. He hit his ball with a hybrid club out of the bush and back into the fairway and then stuck his third shot to 6 inches for a conceded par to remain 1 down in match.
“The funny thing about match play is because I was still up in the match I didn’t want to press,” said Hopper. “This is one golf course if you’re trying to press it’s going to be hard to not make mistakes. I figured I would try to keep playing my conservative strategy. If Blayne would have gone up in the match I would have had to start pressing but luckily I never had to.”
Hopper went on to make birdies on Nos. 14 and 15 to go 3-up and, after both players halved the par 5, 16th hole, he captured the championship title 3 & 2.
“My driving was the difference in the match,” said Hobbs. “I usually hit it pretty straight in the middle of the fairway but today I just had to take too many unplayable penalties and unfortunately, not to take anything away from Michael, but it cost me the match.”
“I was surprised to see Blayne struggle a bit with his driver,” said Hopper. “I’ve played a lot of tournaments with him and I know how consistent and straight he is off the tee.”
The victory was Hopper’s second match play title (2011) and third major championship in the Southwest PGA. He won the 2014 Southwest PGA Championship, which earned him an exemption into the PGA TOUR’s 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open. He also won the 2014 Southwest PGA Assistant Championship.
“The WMPO was tough being my first TOUR event,” Hopper said. “I’m hoping to get another opportunity down the road but it was a great experience and I feel like that atmosphere prepared me for a lot of other stuff.”
In the semifinal matches played earlier in the day, Hopper defeated the 7-seed Jeff Yurkiewicz, 42, PGA teaching professional at Grayhawk Golf Club, in 20 holes. In the other semifinal, Hobbs defeated the top seed Dennis Downs, 33, PGA director of instruction at Reid West Golf Academies (Pebble Creek), 2 & 1.
Special thanks match play sponsors Garia Luxury Golf Car and Greg Norman Collection for their support of the Championship and the entire membership and staff at Desert Forest for their hospitality and generosity in hosting the event.