There is a variety of ways to earn your way into a PGA Tour event. One that many people don’t know is that whoever wins the PING Southwest Section PGA Championship receives an exemption into the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
The PING Southwest Section PGA Championship was held at Reflection Bay Golf Club in Henderson Nevada and had a field of over 80 PGA Professionals from across Arizona and Southern Nevada. The depth of the field as always was quite extensive and included past champion Michael Hopper from The Pointe at Lookout Mountain, retired PGA Tour player R.W. Eaks, and multiple winners from our local section events. Downs began the final round in 11th position (7 shots back of the lead) held by 2014 champion Michael Hopper, who was 9 under par through the first 2 rounds. Also in the final pairing with Hopper was 2013 Arizona Open Champion and former Web.com player Craig Hocknull (-5) and Former ASU golfer and Past Section PNC Champion Scott Frisch of Phoenix Country Club (-4). As you can see by these players partial resume they have all been in this position before and none of them wanted to let go. Being 7 shots off of the lead at the start of the day Dennis knew he had some work to do, and that is just what he did. Dennis managed to shoot 4 under on his front nine and put himself in an excellent position. By the turn, all of the leaders were pretty much where they began the day which put Dennis Downs just three shots back with nine holes to play. Dennis managed to play his back 9 1 under and card a final round 67 (-5) to take the lead in the clubhouse at 209. The last 6 holes were a roller coaster for tournament leader Michael Hopper, which included two bogeys, an eagle, and three pars. This put Hopper two over for the day and now tied with Downs for the lead. In the same group, Hocknull shot an even par front 9 and was staring down a birdie putt on 18. If he holes, the putt would put him in a tie for the lead, which he sank so now all three players were in at 209 (-7).
The playoff would take the players back to the par 5 18th hole which has water all down the right-hand side and was playing straight downwind. From the tee all the players hit the fairway and Hopper was first to hit his approach. With the wind helping all players had a chance to hit the green in two, but Hopper hit it a little left and ended up in the back greenside bunker about pin high. Downs was next to play and he put his shot just on the front of the green to a back hole location. It was now Hocknull’s turn to play. His tee shot was prime and left him only a mid-iron to the green. As soon as the ball came off the club on his approach shot, you could tell he wasn’t pleased as it came up short in the front right bunker short of the green.
Hocknull was now challenged with a very tough bunker shot from about 30 yards to a back hole location with water just behind the green. Craig took his stance and put the best swing he could on the shot. However, the ball came racing out of the bunker landing beyond the hole and rolling in the water hazard, ultimately leading to a bogey and ending his hopes of a victory.
It was now Hopper’s turn to play and he also had a bunker shot from just to the left of the green and not a lot of turf to work with. Hopper dug in and tried to hit the perfect shot but fell short by inches and the ball rolled back in the bunker. The frustrated Hopper hit his next bunker shot to about 12 feet which now gave Dennis the opportunity to put his name on the 2015 PING Section Championship trophy with a two-putt.
Dennis was on the front of the green, but this was no easy two-putt as the hole location was all the way back which left about 70 feet from Downs and the cup. He drew his putter back and through and when the ball stopped rolling still had about 15 feet to finish. Downs still away stepped over his ball and rolled it right towards the hole and at the last second braking off and missing the putt, leaving him a tap-in par. This left Hopper the chance to tie and continue the playoff another hole. Hopper lined up his par putt, the stroke looked good but, unfortunately, didn’t catch enough of the hole to drop making a short tap in for a bogey six. The playoff victory for Dennis Downs secured him a spot in the 2016 Waste Management Phoenix Open as the champion of the 2015 PING Section Championship.
This will be Dennis Downs second PGA Tour event in 3 years as he won the Section Qualifier for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in 2013.
By Frank Calvin