All-Star George Kirby has the game for the course and the mound
by Doug Miller
Watch George Kirby on the pitcher’s mound for a few innings and you can’t help but see it all on display.
There’s the 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame, a six-pitch arsenal headlined by a moving fastball that reaches 100 mph, and the uncanny ability to throw every offering in this lethal repertoire for strikes at any point in any count.
There’s the attention to his craft that’s only getting more and more refined as the Seattle Mariners All-Star right-hander navigated his first full season in Major League Baseball.
And there’s the burning need to be the best that occasionally escapes from the otherwise calculated poise of a stoic, composed athlete. In those moments, this inner fire turns easygoing Kirby into a snarling, fist-pumping maniac shouting expletives into his glove as he stomps back into the dugout after securing the third out.
Now imagine all these qualities on the golf course. Because when he’s got a day off from the ballpark, there’s a very good chance that’s where you’ll find him.
“I’d say there are definitely similarities between my golf game and pitching,” Kirby said while lounging in front of his locker in the Mariners clubhouse at T-Mobile Park before a day game. “I won’t make a scene or throw clubs or anything, but I’ll still get ticked off and say something under my breath.”
Kirby is 25 and currently carries a 2.5 handicap, having gotten serious about golf at the age of 14. He cut his teeth at Rye Golf Club, the public course in his Westchester County, New York, hometown of the same name, and he did it on his own.
He has never taken a lesson, even though he now admits, “I probably should.” And he didn’t inherit a swing or putting stroke or knowledge of etiquette from his parents. His dad, George Kirby Sr., respects the game and organizes a tournament at Rye, the George Kirby Annual Golf Outing, that benefits local seniors, but he doesn’t tee it up himself.
“He doesn’t have the patience for it,” George Jr. said. “The last time he played with me was when I was 12 and we were at a baseball tournament in Cooperstown (New York). We played nine holes, and we haven’t played together since. He loves hosting the tournament, but he never plays.”
George Jr. said he and a group of cousins will likely take over the organization of that tournament in coming years. That’s how much he loves the game and his community. And while he never played golf for Rye High School because it was a spring sport and interfered with baseball season, he did consider it briefly.
“There was a time when I was actually going to quit baseball,” Kirby said with a smile. “It was my freshman year, and I had a thought that I would just focus on golf. I’m glad I didn’t do that.”
So are the Mariners and their fans.
The teenaged Kirby, who also played high school basketball, would occasionally enter himself in PGA Metropolitan Section tournaments to see how he stacked up. But the headlines generated by his rocket right arm and gaudy pitching statistics were too much to ignore. Division I colleges and professional organizations flocked to his prep and summer games, and he shined on the mound at Elon University for three years prior to being selected by the Mariners with the 20th pick of the first round in the 2019 MLB Draft.
Two years later, after a quick ride through Minor League ranks, he was starring for Seattle. He earned his first career save in a rare relief appearance by locking down the Mariners’ playoff-series-clinching victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2022 American League Wild Card Series, and in 2023, he made the AL roster for his first All-Star Game, which was played in Seattle.
This cache as a sports celebrity has led him onto the fairways and greens of some of the country’s best courses. Kirby shot a 78 at Pebble Beach and has also played Westchester Country Club, Glen Oaks, Quaker Ridge and Bethpage Black in New York; and Aldarra, Sahalee, Sand Point and Chambers Bay near Seattle.
When it comes to his game, he’s a bit old-school. He occasionally likes to tee off with a blade 2-iron, and he considers his short game his greatest strength, although he can hit that 2-iron up to 300 yards. He would like to get to scratch or below in the near future, and he considers the PGA TOUR Champions circuit a “good retirement plan.”
Most of all, he enjoys the challenge of the game.
“It’s hard,” Kirby said. “It tests your mental skills. And I think that really helps me with baseball.”
Doug Miller is a sportswriter based in the Seattle area. He was the golf writer for the Oakland Tribune before a stint as a senior writer for MLB.com.