Kevin Millar Q&A: The former Boston Red Sox great reveals his greatest golf regret
It’s arguably the greatest sports moment in the city of Boston’s rich history.
The Red Sox World Series title in 2004 put an end to the curse of the Bambino and along the way introduced the sports world to a group of lovable “idiots”. The ringleader of that group was first baseman Kevin Millar.
Millar is known as the Sox player who coined the phrase “Cowboy Up” as the team’s rallying cry. He’s beloved in Beantown and in baseball circles but these days spends his time obsessing over his new passion: golf.
With the U.S. Open in Boston this week, GOLF.com’s Ryan Asselta caught up with Millar. As expected, the former Sox player and now MLB network broadcaster brought the energy, while dishing about taking money off his teammates on the course, the putting advice Jordan Spieth gave him and what this week’s players can expect from the rabid Boston fans.
GOLF: You were a key part of one of the greatest sports moments in Boston history. When you look back on that 2004 World Series Champion Red Sox team, does it feel like it’s 18 years ago?
KM: In your brain and your heart it feels like it was just a few years ago. And then you realized we’re almost in 2024 and I’m like, holy cow, it doesn’t make any sense. It makes me feel old. I’ve got 17-year-old twins that weren’t even born yet. It’s crazy. I’m 50 years old now, but in my heart I still think I’m 25!
Post MLB career, I know you’ve played a lot of golf. When did you take up the game?
I didn’t play much golf early in my career. I’d maybe play a couple times a year in the offseason or an event with teammates, but I was never a member at a country club or anything like that. When I got released from the Cubs back in 2010, we moved to Austin, Texas. We moved into a community called Steiner Ranch and that’s where the University of Texas Golf Club is located. Once I saw the UT Golf Club I knew I had to join. I started to think about being done with baseball, and had to figure out where I was going to get that same feeling and that edge I had as a player. So I started playing golf. I was a 20 handicap back in 2010 and now I’m down to a 5. I just can’t get over that hump because of my putting. But that’s a whole other story. [Laughs]
Looking back, did you wish you played more golf during your peak athletic years?
I played a bit, but as a position player it was much different that pitchers. Pitchers could golf three or four days a week and then go pitch one day per week. I’ve always loved golf and I do regret not playing more. I would have loved getting up in the mornings and seeing all of the beautiful golf courses around the country while I was traveling playing baseball. I always tell current players, “Play as much golf as you can while you’re out on the road.” I kick myself for not having done that.
Many of your former Red Sox teammates are huge golfers. Derek Lowe, Josh Becket, Tim Wakefield, Johnny Damon, even Big Papi hosts an annual golf event. What’s it like playing with those guys?
Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield and I play a lot of golf together in all of these celebrity tournaments that we’ve played in for charity and the Children’s Miracle Network. Derek Lowe is as good as there is. He’s a scratch golfer and he doesn’t make any mistakes on the course. He even beat Annika Sorenstam at the LPGA’s Tournament of Champions celebrity event in January. Annika has something like 56 career titles and Derek ends up draining a 20-foot putt to win the tournament. The guy has been a closer and a starter in the big leagues, a World Series champ and now he’s beaten a legend like Annika Sorenstam in a playoff. He’s crazy good!
How about your other Sox teammates?
Tim Wakefield takes it very seriously. He’s a scratch player. Wake plays a low, little draw and he can chip and putt. Josh Beckett is very good and probably longest hitter we play with. He hits it 335 yards with his driver and his smash factor is unbelievable. He’s also got great hands. He plays a lot with really good players like PGA Tour Pro Jimmy Walker in San Antonio, Texas. That’s one thing I’ve learned. The more good golfers you play with, the better player you become. It may not be good for my wallet, but I look at it as playing lessons with guys that are that good! [Laughs]
Are there any guys that you just love taking money from of on the golf course over the years?
One thousand percent Josh Beckett! We went to Hawaii a few years ago for a week. We played 188 holes of golf. We would play from sunrise to sunset and then meet our wives for dinner. We played 20 bucks a hole the entire trip. Now he’s a way better golfer than me, but I’m way tougher mentally than he is. He’s been good at things his whole life. He was a first round pick, starting pitcher. I was an un-drafted dude who had to grind his whole life. Plus, Josh is a little frugal. I just love taking anything from him. Even if it’s just $60. If I have the opportunity to play him for money, I take it.
Did you have a favorite golf course the Boston area?
Definitely Old Sandwich in Plymouth. I played there with Tim Wakefield and Red Sox chairman Tom Werner. Tom is a member there and it’s an absolutely cool track outside of the city with tons of fescue grass and forced carries. It kind of reminds me of the Hamptons out on Long Island.
We talked a little bit of baseball. We’d give Tom some advice on the team, tell him some of the Sox weaknesses but they always seem to end up in the playoffs every year because the owners, like Tom, do such a great job. Besides talking baseball, we talked a lot about our crappy swings.
I also really like Tedesco Country Club in Marblehead. I’ve played there with Olympic hockey legend Mike Eruzione.
The U.S. Open will be played in front of Boston sports fans this year. What should guys like Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Rory Mcilroy expect?
Passion. One thing about the Boston crowds and the fan base, they’re passionate about sports … their sports teams, and they’re very knowledgeable. So you’re gonna get a lot of excitement and a lot of energy. East Coast fans just have that aura. Like, they are all in. Your good shots are gonna be loud, and the bad shots you might even have a few guys poppin’ off. But that’s all part of it. The players should expect a ton of energy and hype.
I always respected the Boston fans. You could be on top of the world like Aerosmith and that’s who they treat you like when you’re doing well. And then when you’re not doing so great, they’re gonna let you hear it. But I always told my teammates “Respect 90 feet.” If you play hard they will respect you but if you’re struggling and then you get a little soft, man, they will let you hear it. We’ve all been booed at home.
What do you love most about the game of golf?
I love that you can’t master it. You can play the same course, play as well as you’ve ever played and walk off that 18th green thinking you’ve got it all figured out. You go to bed after shooting 75. Then the next day, you wake up and play again and that number can go to 85 so fast and you don’t even know what happened! Same dude, same course! You can try to master it, but it’s always a chase for greatness.
How’s your chase for greatness these days?
My strength is my driver. I can hit my driver pretty much down the middle. My long game is strong. 7-wood, 9-wood, I’ve got a mini driver I use instead of a 3-wood. My weakness, 100 percent, is my putter. I just cannot understand putting. I cannot consistently hit a putt straight. I never feel comfortable. How do guys like Jordan Spieth drain a 35-foot putt that’s going to break left or right and judge the perfect speed and perfect line? I can’t figure it out.
Jordan has tried to help me with my putting. He’s told me to close my front shoulder, because most amateurs lift up and look at the line of the putt or at the hole. He said when your shoulders open, that’s when you pull a putt. You’ll notice that right before he strokes the ball he closes off his left shoulder and everything lines up right.
Here I am with one of the best putters in the world giving me advice… and I still can’t figure it out!