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Jerry Sullivan: Tim Fries was in golf fan's heaven at PGA Championship

Tim Fries has lived a happy and fulfilling golf life. He's an accomplished player, a seven-time Western New York PGA champion. Two years ago, he played in the Senior PGA Championship. He's a respected head pro at Transit Valley, and one of 14 members of the national PGA board of directors.

But this past weekend might have been the highlight, though Fries didn't strike a golf ball, teach a student or cast a vote. He served as an on-course announcer for the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C.

Fries announced the golfers before they teed off at the first hole in the afternoon on Thursday. He had the distinction of announcing the golfers' arrival at the 18th green for the last two and a half hours of Sunday's final round.

It was a big responsibility, nerve-racking at times. But mainly, it was the weekend of a lifetime, a golf lover's dream. Essentially, Fries got to experience a golf major as an unabashed fan.

"It's really cool," Fries said from outside the clubhouse. "You can imagine. Quail Hollow is a beautiful place. It's just awesome. I did it at Whistling Straits (at the 2015 PGA). It's thrilling, because you're on the green, right there with the players and the caddies, the rules officials, at the finish.

"It really is kind of neat," he said. "The members back home hear it. My friends hear it. 'You're really down there!' That's kind of cool."

You sound like a giddy teenager, I told him. Fries is an animated, gregarious soul, a guy who could ramble for hours about moving up tee boxes. Talking about working the PGA Championship, he was positively effusive.

"Exactly!" said Fries, a Tonawanda native and 1982 Sweet Home grad. "Here I am, at age 52, getting a chance to be a part of this, witness it and do some announcing. I'm usually calm for the most part and just speak slowly, but here I am talking to you like a 12-year-old, for God's sake!

"You say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 99th PGA Championship. Now on the tee, from Dallas, Texas, Jordan Spieth! You pull that off and breathe heavy, cause your heart rate is about 130. It's a riot."

At times, it can be as harrowing as making a crucial 4-foot putt. On Thursday, the tourney was on live TV when defending champ Jimmy Walker arrived for a 1:25 tee time with Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner, two other former champs.

Things were running seven minutes behind. The golfers wanted to hit. The rules official at the tee was urging Fries to announce the group. But Fries had the national TV people in his earpiece, instructing him to wait. You know who wins those battles.

"The TV guy is in one ear, barking at me, 'You've got to give me a 30-second countdown'," Fries said. "The rules official says, 'Jimmy's going right now'. I said, 'You've got to hold him up.' It was quite an ordeal. Phil Mickelson was giving me the evil eye.

"Finally, Jimmy Walker gives me this look, like 'You've got to be kidding me'. He finally hits it down the middle, shoots 81. Now it's my fault!"

Fries laughed at the memory. In the end, most of the players are wonderful. He said they appreciate what the PGA does for them. Meeting some of the best players in the world was a nice perk. His wife, Karen ("She makes this work for me") and his kids – Hannah, 19, and Patrick, 17 – were in Charlotte with him.

"My daughter was beside herself," Fries said. "She watched me shake hands with Adam Scott, have a little conversation with him on the tee. 'Best of luck to you, how's things going?' We sat with Rory McIlroy and his wife at the Champions Dinner on Tuesday night. We sat with him and Paddy Harrington.

"I'm here in the parking lot where the players are going in and out. There's Luke Donald right there!"

PGA Board Member Tim Fries announces on the 18th green during the final round of the 99th PGA Championship. (Scott Halleran/PGA of America)

Like a wide-eyed fan, Fries talked of meeting Dustin Johnson and Zach Johnson in the clubhouse, and chatting with legendary instructors like David Leadbetter on the practice range. There was no pretense, no attempt to hide his joy at being around the game he loves and its biggest stars.

It was that love of the sport, and his ability to communicate, that helped Fries get the gig. He spent years volunteering for area PGA events, raising his profile. He became president of the Western New York PGA board, then got elected as one of 14 members of the national board of directors, representing parts of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland.

Fries spends 40-50 days a year, mostly in the offseason, traveling for board business. The PGA Championship ended his four-year term. Now he'd like to actually play in the event. Three weeks ago, he won the WNYPGA championship for a seventh time, gaining him entrance in a qualifier for next year's PGA.

"I need to get over the hump," Fries said. "Next year, I get to go and compete for one of these 20 spots. At 52, I've got my work cut out for me. I'm highly motivated to do well. I'll work in the next couple months to try to get to that point where I feel I can be competitive."

It would be nice to see one of the good guys get a shot. Fries made it to the second round of PGA Tour qualifying school three times as a younger man, but fell short. He played in last year's Senior PGA and missed the cut. He'll keep trying to qualify for that event. In 2019, it comes to Oak Hill in Rochester.

Whatever the case, he'll be back at Transit Valley, plugging for golf in his hometown. Fries is excited about the Jack Nicklaus project at Delaware Park, where he runs three times a week. He'd like to see UB, his alma mater, have a golf team. He wants to see more kids, women and minorities take up the game.

"There's fun things going on," Fries said. "My access to the PGA has helped me meet so many people. I sit on a board with Chris Liedel. He runs the Smithsonian Institution, for God's sake. It gets you in some doors and opens up some avenues, access to some money and funds. It's all good.

"When I close my eyes for the last time, I hope I did something. And hopefully, the PGA and golf really got me there."

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