The People You Meet Playing Golf: Rod and Gene
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The People You Meet Playing Golf: Rod and Gene

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The People You Meet Playing Golf: Rod and Gene

Today marks the launch of a new series here on MyGolfSpy: The People You Meet Playing Golf.

Golf, when played by those of us who are regular people, is a social activity. After all, we “play” golf. Whether it’s a buddy trip, your regular Saturday Swat or an “emergency nine,” the people you play with matter. And every one of them has a story to tell. If you listen, that story is always 10 times more interesting than your own.

Over the coming months, we’re going to share with you the stories of regular golfers with whom we’ve been lucky enough to share 18 holes. Some are longtime pals. Others are random strangers we’ve met at the whim of the cosmos and the tee sheet.

For this first installment, we’re going to profile two longtime friends who, we can state categorically, have more fun on the golf course than anyone you’ve ever met.

The People You Meet Playing Golf: Rod and Gene

 Harvey Penick once said, “If you play golf, you are my friend.” And if you are ever lucky enough to play golf with Gene Hartigan and Rod Fritz, you’ll know the truth in that statement.

Not that Rod and Gene are great golfers. They’re not. Both are 70-something retired radio journalists from Boston for whom breaking 100 is breaking news.

The people you meet while playing golf.

“We started playing together when we were at WEEI (at the time, Boston’s leading all-news radio station) in 1984,” says Gene, an award-winning investigative news and political reporter. “We had some name recognition and would get invited to all these charity tournaments.”

At some point over the past 40 years, their golf outings morphed into some of the fiercest, and funniest, competitions you’ve ever witnessed. And the trash talk between the two has become an art form all its own.

“Gene and I have known each other a long time,” says Rod. “And I have to tell you, Mr. Hartigan is a pathological liar. How can your handicap be higher than mine when we shoot the same score?”

“It’s because you take magic mushrooms,” replies Gene. “Rod is no doubt the better player. That’s why he keeps losing to me.”

“The camaraderie and competition we have is just so much fun,” says Rod. “Do I like to beat him? Yes. Do I rub it in when I beat him? Oh yes.”

“And I never bring up the fact that he cheats,” adds Gene. “Never.”

Lucky and the Company Clerk

Both men served in Vietnam during the war. Gene served as a company clerk for his unit in the early ‘70s.

“I was, as Rod likes to say, the Radar O’Reilly of the company,” says Gene. “We had 219 in our company and I was in charge of keeping everything moving forward.”

Rod was with the 11th Armored Calvary Regiment working in Psy-Ops out of Quon Loi. It was there he got his start in broadcasting.

“We couldn’t get Armed Forces Radio where we were,” he says. “I talked to the commander and said we needed some entertainment. He came up with a transmitter, turntables and records, and we built our pirate radio station. We called it Radio Blackhorse, after the 11th Armored Cav.”

Rod would do his regular missions during the day and spin records at night, going by the name Lucky Fritz. How lucky? While Rod was on leave in Australia, his pirate station was hit by mortar fire.

“Everything still worked,” he says, “but some of the records had extra holes in them.”

Some of Lucky’s Radio Blackhorse airchecks still survive. You can listen to one here.

Veterans’ issues are important to both men. They’re regulars in Veteran Golfers Association events and will eagerly strike up conversations with anyone wearing a cap reflecting their service.

And both have rallied groups to go for an icy swim in the annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge with the L Street Brownies in South Boston.

The people you meet playing golf.

The People You Meet Playing Golf: Rod and Gene On The Course

As English author P.G. Wodehouse once said, “To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.” A round of golf with Gene and Rod will bear that out.

Both are true characters.

“The great thing about playing together is we have all this trash talk,” says Rod. “We’ll drop clubs in the middle of a backswing or we might cough during a putt.”

“I don’t do that,” Insists Gene. “He does it all the time, but I don’t do that. He has no f***king manners.”

Playing 18 holes with these guys and trying to follow their conversation is like trying to follow the plot line of Lost or Twin Peaks. More often than not, you’re left thinking, “Are these guys for real?

For example, on a recent trip to Myrtle Beach, Rod proposed a $20 bet that he’d beat Gene in straight-up stroke play in two of the four rounds. That would be in addition to their normal nassau and greenie game. Rod handily won the first round. But in the second round, he found himself only one stroke up going into 18. Gene would win the hole, and the Nassau, with a double-bogey to Rod’s triple. But that meant the stroke-play competition was tied.

Rod would win the stroke competition in a card-off but the trash talk continued well into the night through dinner, poker and into the next morning at breakfast.

“All I know is I won $20,” insists Rod.

“But who won the match and the greenies, Rod?” retorts Gene. “Who?”

In the end, Rod did win 20 bucks but he had to pay Gene $16 for the match so he came out $4 ahead.

“I came out on top,” insists Rod. “That’s all that matters.”

The Battling Bickersons

While their competition is fierce, the non-stop ribbing is good-natured. It would get tiresome if it weren’t so damned funny.

“I can’t tell you how many times people we’ve played with have asked us, ‘Are you two married?’” says Rod.

So who has won more often over the past 40 years? The answer came in unison.

“I have,” says both. And then it devolved from there.

“One year you won a lot and one year I won a lot,” says Gene.

“But over the years, I’ve won more than you,” insists Rod.

“I don’t think so,” replies Gene.

“Show me the scorecards, then.”

“I don’t have to show you the scorecards. You know you’re lying.”

“If you’re calling me a liar, you have to show the proof,” says Rod. “You can’t show the scorecards, can you?”

Seriously, this is how the conversation went down. I can play you the tape. And they can reprise nearly every round they’ve ever played together, shot by shot. Yes, there’s plenty of selective memory but if each victory validates their claim to moral high ground, there’s always a rebuttal.

“What about the time you choked at Newton Commonwealth?” asks Rod.

“That was five years ago,” says Gene.

“Doesn’t matter. I won,” says Rod.

The People You Meet Playing Golf: The Final Word

Playing golf with Rod and Gene might not be for everyone. If you take yourself and your game a little too seriously, you probably won’t enjoy the banter. But if you play the game for fun, then, my friends, fun you will have.

“Despite all of his lying and cheating, it doesn’t matter,’ says Gene. “When we play, we’re fierce competitors. It makes us play better because each one of us is ready to dump on the other one if he screws up.”

“We go out and enjoy the game,” says Rod. “And if you happen to have a good friend, as I do, that you compete with and do a lot of trash-talking, it makes the game even better.”

“But when you urinate on my ball, I’m not happy,” replies Gene.

“I’ve never urinated on his ball,” Rod says to me.

“Another lie,” insists Gene.

Seriously, the written word cannot do these conversations justice. It’s performance art that’s one part trash talk and two parts stream of consciousness.

“When I win, I’m a gentleman. And he can’t stand that,” says Rod. “I try to be humble. When he wins, he texts all our friends telling them he beat me on the front, back and total.”

“That’s the news reporter in me,” replies Gene. “I’m just updating everyone. That’s all it is.”

Both men are 74 and have no plans to hang it up any time soon. They’re having way too much fun to stop.

“We’ll play till we die,” says Gene. “If Rod dies before me, I’m going to slip a golf club into his casket.”

“And if Gene dies before I do, I’m going to stick a fifth of Scotch in his casket.”

And in the afterlife, they’ll no doubt argue about that, too.

Good-naturedly, of course.

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John Barba

John Barba

John Barba

John is an aging, yet avid golfer, writer, 6-point-something handicapper living back home in New England after a 22-year exile in Minnesota. He loves telling stories, writing about golf and golf travel, and enjoys classic golf equipment. “The only thing a golfer needs is more daylight.” - BenHogan

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      Ginny C

      2 months ago

      I don’t play golf, but I’ve known these two characters for 50 years and I think they get wackier as the dementia sets in. Love them both!

      Reply

      Joe B

      3 months ago

      I have played golf with Gene and Rod for many, many, years. THEY BOTH CHEAT! AND they sure do have a lot of fun. They BOTH know they will NOT be playing on TV Sunday afternoon unless it is for a tournament fundraiser. They do a lot for our Veterans and other charities. If you ever get a chance to play with those two it will be a round you will NEVER forget!

      Reply

      Gene Hartigan

      3 months ago

      Both Rod and I are putting our efforts toward helping those in need in West Africa. We are part of a three-man group of vets who started a 501c3 nonprofit called AfriMed Network Inc (afrimendnetwork.org) the goal bringing basic healthcare to the villages in the Ivory Coast, (Cote d’Ivoire).

      Reply

      Steve S

      3 months ago

      Sounds a lot like a group I play with. Nobody gets upset when you talk in their backswing because the guy swinging is usually talking while swinging. We have one guy that has 3000 golf balls in his basement but still goes looking in the woods for more balls. Last time I rode in the cart with him I left him behind when he went in the woods. He won’t ride with me anymore.

      Reply

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