Thanks to DK Nation also being a part of Vox Media, our two resident golf writers in Collin Sherwin and Grace McDermott got an advanced copy of Season 1 of Full Swing, Netflix’s new show giving a behind-the-scenes look at various players on the PGA TOUR during the 2022 season.
Keep in mind: The two below are big-time golf watchers and fans, but it seems pretty clear this series is designed to pull in the more casual viewer of the game. Having Amanda Renner (nee Balionis) explain how a Friday cut works, and how many rounds a golf tournament is early in episodes, makes it pretty clear who the target demo is here.
Collin: Well Grace, being employees of Vox Media got us a pretty sweet fringe benefit. We got an early copy of the new Netflix series Full Swing a couple days ago, and I’ve never felt more like my heroes Siskel and Ebert (like you, they were from Chicago too, l but I think their show ended before you entered kindergarten).
As a golf dork, I was really excited to see the PGA TOUR get the F1 treatment. This is exactly the kind of thing big fans have been clamoring for to help grow the game. But because I follow the sport so closely, I didn’t really learn much from the series. This is very much for the non-golf fan or a very casual one.
There’s a couple of cool moments, and Episode 4 focusing on Joel Dahmen is legitimately incredible television, but on the whole I didn’t really learn a lot and there wasn’t much I didn’t know already.
Did you know Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas were friends? Or that Tony Finau is really close to his family? You did, and I know this because we both watch golf every week. So maybe someone that might only see these guys on the back nine of a major might pick up something, but on the whole I really didn’t.
But shoutout to Rory McIlroy for a dig at Phil Mickelson in the finale that will for sure make some headlines. We’re going to write about it and publish it after the full episodes drop tomorrow, but that’s all of one line. Much like basically every PGA TOUR press conference, about nothing interesting to those that follow the game closely got said here.
Grace: I really can never complain about my job again after getting to watch eight straight hours of TV on the clock! I’m not sure what I expected Full Swing to be, but I should have expected something like this. The PGA TOUR is very, very into growing the appeal and following of the game right now (not to be confused with LIV’s “growing the game” company line), and this show does just that.
Episode by episode, it takes you through different golfers’ way of life. What’s the right way of doing things — tracking every shot and figuring out the science behind it, a la Matt Fitzpatrick, or going on pure strength and talent, like Brooks Koepka? Should you focus completely and entirely on the game like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, or make room for family and other things in life like Tony Finau and Joel Dahmen?
Now, were very involved golf fans asking those questions? Not really. But creating a cult of personality in what can often be viewed as a very aloof sport is a brilliant strategy, and one that will take the casual viewer or the non-viewer and give them someone to root for, someone who they recognize, someone to turn the television on to watch every weekend.
The Dahmen episode is absolutely fantastic, and the others are good, but they don’t dig in and answer our questions about LIV Golf and what the guys truly think about the divide. I think the Ian Poulter episode gives us the best look into why people are really taking the Saudi offer and leans somewhat into the implications of taking the money. But so much is just the same stuff we’ve heard in press conferences all year.
Collin: I’m with you here. We’re just not the target audience. Hopefully some people see this and start to enjoy the game and the characters around golf, which as a sport is in a good place right now.
Despite all the LIV drama, as this series shows, the momentum and the legacy is all on the side of the PGA TOUR. There’s a ton of terrific young talent in the game, and generally they seem like good guys. Even if they’re a bit stiff sometimes a la Collin Morikawa, they seem respectful of the game, their peers, and those around them.
As for the ones that do appear to be “heels” of the series in pro wrestling vernacular ... well Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, and Ian Poulter all took the money and ran anyway.
Now can we talk about how amazing the Joel Dahmen episode is? Should we tell people to just fast-forward to Episode 4? If you’re not rooting for that guy after that 40 minutes of television, you are forever broken as a person. If he gets close in a major this year, you’re going to see every gallery on every hole yelling “you can do it!” like it’s an Adam Sandler movie.
He’s the best thing about this entire series, and I wish for any second season to look more like that episode. It was phenomenally well done, and credit to his caddy Geno Bonnalie and wife Lona for helping to paint a picture of one of the best golfers in the world that everyone believes in and loves. Except the guy swinging the club himself.
Grace: Geno and his relationship with Dahmen were some of the best parts of the series for me. And while the young guys were fun and encouraging to watch, I do want to talk about that final episode. Netflix getting Rory McIlroy behind this was a huge draw, and they take advantage of it — to an extent. He has been the driving force behind the PGA TOUR’s new efforts to create elevated events, youth opportunities, and a sense of community in an individual sport.
But do they do enough with Rory? This is their deepest dive into the question of younger golfers like Cam Smith going to LIV, and there’s even a mention of backlash from PGA TOUR golfers about the required elevated events (of much more interest to day-to-day golf fans than casual ones), but it felt like they didn’t quite know which direction to go with the Irishman.
Collin: Agree that more with Rory could have been done, but in a way I kind of think he’s the worst guy for a behind-the-scenes series. We all know what Rory thinks, because he’s totally unafraid to say it at all times. There was also zero time with his wife and child, which might be because he put them off-limits to cameras (a decision I would totally respect if that’s the case).
It’s a shame they couldn’t get in the now-famous players-only meeting in Delaware, because anything out of there even if heavily redacted would have been nice. And where was the Rickie Fowler episode? One of the most popular guys on the PGA TOUR with the fans, but he also needed a legitimate miracle just to stay in the Top 125 last year. He clearly gave them some access as he’s sprinkled in all the interviews, but it’s a story where I would loved to have seen more about how he’s getting through his extended struggles.
I know there’s only so much they can do, but getting more of the off-the-record thoughts of the players on-the-record was what I was hoping for here. Instead we sort of get more well-rounded biographies of guys we already knew, and not much to change what our perceptions of them were already.