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Transit Valley’s Fries heads to Senior PGA Championship having seen it all

It’s safe to say Tim Fries’ preparation for his first major championship was slightly different than that of, say, Bernhard Langer or Colin Montgomerie.

Fries was home Monday, cutting the grass. Those household chores aren’t going to do themselves, after all, and he’s hoping to be out of town a while.

Fries left Tuesday morning for Benton Harbor, Mich., where he’s set to compete in the 77th Senior PGA Championship. He tees off at 9 a.m. Thursday in the first round at Harbor Shores.

“For me to be here, playing in a major, I can’t wipe the smile off my face,” he said. “I’ve got the Fitbit, checking my pulse. If I can keep it under 100 on the first tee, I’ll be doing all right.”

It will be quite a different world for the 51-year-old head professional at Transit Valley.

“The reality is I’m a club professional who just had a super-busy weekend,” Fries said Monday. “I’m paying bills. I’m doing payroll. I’m here on Monday instead of there practicing. Reality is what it is.”

Fries qualified for this week’s tournament with his finish at the 27th Senior PGA Professional National Championship last fall. A four-round total of 2-over 290 was good for a tie for 37th place, just missing the top 35 who get invites into the Senior PGA Championship. Fries, however, was placed on an alternate list, and got the call a couple weeks ago that he had a spot in one of the Champions Tour’s five majors.

“If I can make it to the weekend, man would that be super cool,” Fries said. “That would exceed my expectations. I feel like I can do it.”

One of the first calls Fries made after finding out he was in the field was to Lonnie Nielsen, the Orchard Park resident and former Champions Tour member. During a 20-minute conversation, Nielsen offered advice on everything Fries can expect this week.

“I thought that was incredibly gracious of him,” Fries said.

Since then, Fries has leaned on his degree. A psychology major at the University at Buffalo, he has tried to envision each scenario he’ll come across – and how he’ll react.

“I’m called to the first tee. I’m coming up 18. I put myself in those situations,” he said. “It’s interesting what happens when you do that. Something changes.

“It’s not just practicing. Hitting putts and chips, anybody can do that. It’s putting yourself in a situation and seeing how you react.”

That has meant finding the fastest putts possible on Transit Valley’s practice green and doing what anyone who has played before surely has done – imagining that putt has a major on the line.

“I try to go through those scenarios and come up with answers,” Fries said. “It’s tough when you’re not there, but you can certainly try and put together a game plan.”

Fries has even used Google Earth to zoom in on Harbor Shores to try and prepare for what he’ll see on the golf course.

“I’m playing with house money,” he said. “I have absolutely nothing to lose. I might swing harder than Jason Day on the first tee. I’m going to come out of my shoes.

“I can’t wait to go. You hear it all the time, but I really am excited for the opportunity. Why not be excited? I hope to God I’m going to be nervous, because if I’m nervous it means it means something. When you’re not nervous, you’re on your way to shooting 100. I want to be nervous because I’m shooting 5-under par. I’m searching for that feeling or moment, when something good is happening.”

But what happens if that moment never comes? What if Monty’s Goliath squashes Fries’ attempt at playing David?

“I told my family, I’ll be smiling the whole way,” Fries said. “You’ve just got to move on and play as hard as you can.”

To make sure that happens, Fries is bringing along Transit Valley member Tim DiGiulio to serve as his caddie.

“He’ll go out of his way to have fun,” Fries said. “He’s a wonderful player, with a great sense of humor. He’s going to enjoy being there.

“We’re going to have some beers, I’m sure, at night, just hanging out. I’m not one to be grinding on the range. You bring to the dance what you have. I’m not going to change much. I feel confident that I can be very competitive. Make a few putts and sure, anything can happen.”

A sweep of state event

The Crag Burn duo of Jeff Wolniewicz and Billy Gaffney teamed up for a five-stroke win in the New York State Golf Association Men’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship that concluded Monday. Wolniewicz and Gaffney shot 13-under 131 over two rounds at Leatherstocking Golf Course in Cooperstown. That included a blistering opening round of 9-under 63 Sunday.

The team of Matt Clarke (Cazenovia) and Bob Rosen (Country Club of Buffalo) teamed up to win the senior division. Their total of 11-under 133 gave them a one-shot win.

In the four-ball format, each member of a two-player team plays his or her own ball, with the lower score among the pair counting for the team.

Chip-ins

• The local team of Kim Kaul and Victoria Parker missed the cut at the United States Golf Association’s Women’s Amateur-Four Ball held this week at Streamsong Resort in Streamsong, Fla. Parker and Kaul shot rounds of 88 and 87.

• Peek’n Peak head professional Dwayne Randall shot a round of 4-under par 66 to win the Seneca Allegany Pro-Am at Elkdale Country Club on Monday. There was a tie for first place in the pro-am portion of the event, with Randall teaming with Mike Kiel (Midvale CC) and amateurs Lyndon Smith, Don Farance and Scott Pritchard for a 17-under 123. That was matched by the team of Tom Keenan (Whispering Woods GC), Curtis Evanicki (Lakeside CC) and amateurs Jay Honard, Mark Evanicki and Tom McClue.

• The 25th season of the New York State Junior Golf Tour begins Sunday with the first of seven scheduled parent-junior scrambles. Sunday’s event will be held at Bristol Harbour in Canandaigua. The cost is $65 per team and is open to juniors ages 8-18 with any adult partner. It includes 18 holes with cart and lunch, plus gift and prizes for all juniors. To register, call or text Rick Zurak at 390-0549 or email zurakgolf@roadrunner.com. In the past 25 years, more than $45,000 in scholarships have been awarded through the tour.

• Local golf news of note and column ideas are welcome at the email address below.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com