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On the heels of the worldwide success of the “Drive to Survive” series that captured Formula One racing in a light never seen before, Netflix’s latest iteration “Full Swing” is a similar deep-dive documentary into the world of competitive golf. From the moment this series was announced, golf fans knew they would be getting glimpses into conversations that typically took place in media-free zones for the first time so our eyes and ears perked up. Then, just as the Netflix cameras began rolling in the spring of 2022, the LIV Golf Tour drama took over the game’s landscape and turned golf drama into tabloid drama. The running joke on social media for the last 12 months with every twist and turn in the LIV vs. PGA Tour battle has been “I can’t believe the Netflix cameras are rolling for all of this.” We’ve had the hindsight of knowing this docu-series would be dropping to take us behind the scenes through an unreal 2022 in golf, and now the final product is here.
In profiling the PGA Tour’s best and brightest stars, you look no further to start the series off than the longtime duo of Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. They highlighted episode one of the eight-episode season, and while we see the two of them as friends a lot on the course, it’s the off-the-course moments that shine through in their relationship. From private plane flights with $1000 “Guess a Card” games to day trips to scout out a future major championship track, they really do roll together – until the other wins on Tour. Jordan Spieth wanted no part of hanging around for champagne celebrations after JT captured the PGA Championship at Southern Hills.
Episode two highlights the real-life struggles of Brooks Koepka as he simultaneously planned a wedding and had his game fall off a cliff. The lonely Koepka lacking confidence on the greens is a juxtaposition to everything you see on-camera from the star, which shows how tormenting golf is, and that the behind-the-scenes content truly tells the full story. On the flip side of that coin, the insane heater of Spring 2022 from Scottie Scheffler just shows you how great the top of the game really is. He could do no wrong as he rolled to four wins and a green jacket in a three-month span, all the while with blissful ignorance and a smile on his face. Easy game, right? His biggest worry seemed to be his wife’s salty snack crumbs spilling in their bed – tough life.
Then the LIV Golf Drama made its gigantic cameo. The Players Championship was when the first leaks and prospects of this new tour were brought to the forefront, and the Netflix cameras were rolling with Ian Poulter, one of the earliest adopters. At least his children’s continuous mocking of his dad’s “funky” fashion was present to cut the tension of his profiling. As the curtain closes on Poulter’s 2022 hopes to be at Augusta, having his locker room tantrum right next to his opponent Matt Fitzpatrick was an electric moment that shows the tight quarters in golf. Soon after, a 46-year-old Poulter is more reflective at home and understands the temptation at hand to take the LIV money for their debut event (which he eventually does). We cut scene to the icy press conference, Big ol’ bags of money, and “golf…but louder” vibes that LIV golf is introducing – more to come from that.
The Game of Golf
On the lighter side of the game that really needs more cameras, there are just all-out goofs that are totally realistic with their expectations like Joel Dahmen. The fun-loving pro has a traumatic background with loss and illness and his and his family’s life, but you would never know it if you saw his bright and humor-filled demeanor in and around the game of golf. The white claw and beer-filled friendship of Joel and his BFF slash caddie Geno are on full display for the cameras, and I’m not sure you could have picked a better pairing for season one.
U.S. Open week from The Country Club was a massive focal point of episode four, where Dahmen had a top ten and his best finish in a major and Matt Fitzpatrick triumphed in a massive spot to claim his first major. Fitzpatrick’s journey is all in the details, as he’s literally documented every shit he’s hit (he estimates 7000) since age 15. What the Netflix cameras showed you with these bulldogs was just how much of a grind each day is for the average or undersized Tour pro, who isn’t used to being in contention very often. The nerves, negative thoughts, and doubt are real, even for the guys you see play on TV with regularity. Before Fitzpatrick could triumph at Brookline, his over-nervousness and collapse on Sunday a month prior at the PGA showed the inconsistency this game offers. It was a silent car ride home that day.
Cut back to Centurion in London, where the LIV golfers’ ban from PGA Tour events was handed down as the cameras rolled – Dustin Johnson and his family were rolling in money and laughing at the dancing memes. DJ is just as delightfully aloof and casual behind the scenes as you’ve seen from him in fifteen years in pro golf. He speaks candidly about his “past career” on the PGA Tour but does leave the door open for the tours to coalesce and unite.
Bring in the New Guys
As for the new look of the PGA Tour in a post-Tiger and Phil world, family man Tony Finau and young star and two-time major champion Collin Morikawa are spotlighted. Finau’s parents didn’t even know the game of golf but they knew what it could provide. Tony and his brother picked up clubs and did the rest, and now Tony’s game has paved the way for him to play in the greatest tournaments in the game and make his family proud. Collin, on the other hand, is completely devoted full-time to his body, mind, and golf game. There are no distractions of parenting and it’s all-in on work over relaxation as he visits specialists and grinds out extra practice time between events. It’s hard to believe that we’re already pondering if we’ve seen Morikawa’s peak before hitting age 25 – he was quick to deny that take in his confessionals.
Not everyone’s peak in pro golf is the same, and Netflix was keen to profile Tour rookies who we have no clue about. Chilean golfer Mito Pereira rolls with the crew of Latin American golfers on tour, and by now that entire group has defected to the LIV Golf Tour. The familial vibe they share is a home away from home relationship that is to be envied, and it showcased the cliques that exist on Tour. The other rook highlighted was 24-year-old Sahith Theegala, who worked through a bit of grinding and qualifiers to get his way on Tour. The Indian-American child prodigy was a dream come true for his dad, but not all dreams are formed immediately. Theegala had a heartbreaking close call at the 2022 Waste Management, where his family watches on in angst, and is later seen openly sobbing after the round. The tie for third was a monumental paycheck for his young Tour career to continue on, but the emotion of the moment was met with the best parenting moment of the season. Mito’s close call and 72nd hole choke job at the PGA followed the same tone of heartbreak: the cruel reality for most on Tour. His girlfriend was inconsolable just spectating.
Talk about a Cliffhanger
The season one finale ends with a bang as it’s Rory and the PGA Tour vs LIV Golf. An introspective Rory at a charity breakfast talks about fighting the disruption in golf with authority, and not being afraid of the contentiousness. Since he was young, Rory “would tell anyone that would listen” about his future dominance in the game, which to his credit all came true. While it felt like the stars were aligned for him to win The Open at St. Andrews, it was not to be as Cam Smith aka The Mullet spoiled that party and then rolled over to the LIV party immediately after. Nonetheless, Rory’s mission to grow the game and dominate it rolls on – from youth clinics to tech partnerships and tour board meetings, Rory’s plate was full in Season 1 and it all concluded with Rory’s Tour Championship victory.
All in all, Season 1 of “Full Swing” is a success in finding the best raw emotion and storytelling within the professional golf scene. My content-hungry brain would have liked to see more off-course, at-home hanging-around type of material, but I understand how fragile our attention spans are these days and Netflix can’t keep everything. What this series did well is orate a crazy as hell year in golf for anyone to easily digest whether you watch the PGA Tour or not. Thanks to the willingness of some of the world’s best, this could be a mainstay in content for golf lovers in years to come…especially if 2022’s level of drama continues.