Here’s my one-sentence review of Netflix’s golf documentary “Full Swing:” It’s good, not great.
That probably isn’t going to make a billboard, but especially if you consider yourself a hardcore golf fan you might come away underwhelmed. The fact is, the golf fan isn’t the target audience; it’s geared toward welcoming a new audience to the game and I sincerely hope it succeeds to do for golf what “Drive to Survive” has done for Formula One.
Although I have my doubts.
My biggest gripe of all is that it just isn’t edgy enough. With the exception of a few too many curse words, especially from Brooks Koepka, you wouldn’t know this isn’t a series from the PGA Tour’s house organ, PGA Tour Entertainment. For all the unprecedented access that Netflix supposedly received from the Tour and golf bodies that run the majors and the players, I wanted more. There should have been more locker room scenes and fewer sponsor-driven activities.
That’s not to say there isn’t some good material. I finished the first episode, which centers on the relationship between Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth and even though it was past my bedtime, I couldn’t help but binge another episode.
Mike Thomas, JT’s dad and swing instructor, steals the show for me. He tells the story of the time Jordan had JT’s rental car moved from the WM Phoenix Open parking lot. It’s a great prank and that anecdote will probably resonate with new viewers, but it would’ve been so much better if they could’ve come up with fresh anecdotes rather than rely on an oldie but a goodie.
It has previously been reported that Netflix suits requested a re-cut to take Koepka out of the first episode because it was too much of a downer and that was a wise call. It was fascinating to see the fragility of the four-time major winner’s confidence and self-belief in his game and perhaps explains his jump to LIV better than he has done publicly to this point. He opened up more than any player, which was great, but it also may make some viewers check out. And topping the list of those who come off poorly in the show is Koepka’s then-fiancee, now wife, Jena.
Episode 3 highlighted Ian Poulter and his decision to go to LIV and how much the Ryder Cup meant to him. This finally begins to introduce the LIV Plotline.
But it is the one that follows that I expect to become a cult favorite. For those who remember John Feinstein’s book, “A Good Walk Spoiled,” the unsung hero was Paul Goydos. To me, Joel Dahmen is the Paul Goydos of “Full Swing.” I didn’t think Dahmen could be more likable, but he and his caddie Geno Bonnalie are going to have a huge new fan base. Excellent job showing the warmth of their friendship.
The producers scored with Matt Fitzpatrick winning the U.S. Open in dramatic fashion. They take us inside the post-victory celebration but it all appeared a little too tame. Will some viewers come away thinking golfers are too boring other than flying everywhere in private jets? The chances are good.
Episode 6 contained some of the best and worst of the show. On the one hand, Tony Finau is going to get nominated for Father of the Year. Both his rags-to-riches story and trying to find the right work-life balance is going to be very relatable. I loved seeing the golf-ball-sized dents in the garage door where Tony and his brother used to hit balls into a mattress in front of it. That visual was cool. Already one of the most popular players, Finau is going to add a whole new fan base. But the Collin Morikawa section of this episode felt very flat and it failed to add anything new about one of the rising stars in golf other than that he wears olive pants.
In episode seven, Sahith Theegala also comes off as humble and not your average touring pro. His family support is genuine. The friendship between Joaquin Niemann and Mito Pereira felt authentic. Many of the international players, especially those who don’t speak English as a first language tend to have a tight bond. Here the “Full Swing” team excelled at showing the agony of defeat as Pereira squanders a chance to win the PGA Championship with a double-bogey on the final hole. This marked a terrific job of getting audio, as the crew picked up Pereira realizing he’s likely blown his chance of winning a major. There are some great shots of his girlfriend looking on and it’s like watching her witness a car crash.
Kudos to producer Chad Mumm for continuing to pursue Rory McIlroy’s participation long after the show had been green-lit. It would’ve felt odd not to have him involved. The final episode centers around McIlroy, who is at the heart of the PGA Tour-LIV Golf debate. McIlroy seems the most comfortable in front of the camera and unafraid to hold anything back. He doesn’t seem to be worried about any consequences of taking a few shots at Phil Mickelson and other LIV players. Lines have been drawn and we know exactly where Rory stands.
The good news is Season 2 already is in the works. Here’s hoping it will go from good to great.