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Golf is undoubtedly having its moment, and it has the chance to take it one step further.
‘Full Swing,’ debuting February 15 on Netflix, looks to bring the ‘Drive to Survive’ effect to golf, following the 2022 PGA Tour season through the lens of 13 players.
It wasn’t long ago that NASCAR dominated American motorsport interests but that all changed with ‘Drive to Survive’ as Formula One raced forward in popularity.
The docuseries, entering its fifth season, has been widely successful by deep-diving into the lives of the drivers and team dynamics with a few dramatic 200mph races sprinkled in.
Golf has already experienced that phenomena to an extent thanks to the headline-grabbing controversy of LIV Golf. And the rebel series is surely the greatest pulling point to the show for both existing followers of the sport and non-fans.
‘Full Swing,’ debuting February 15 on Netflix, looks to bring the ‘Drive to Survive’ effect to golf
Rory McIlroy headlines the star-studded line up of the docuseries on the PGA Tour
Yet, despite teasing the LIV vs. PGA Tour turf war throughout its trailer from Ian Poulter screaming in the locker room to chief loyalist Rory McIlrory taking center stage in a theatrical finale, those who tune in expecting eight hours of inside-the-ropes insight into the battle, the ‘will he, won’t hes’ and the sly digs will be left sorely disappointed – at least at first.
It takes three episodes for the for the Saudi-funded breakaway to get a notable mention with ex-Ryder Cup favorite Ian Poulter using his waning days as a viable pro, his role as a father, his personality platform, and, let’s face it, the money, as excuses for jumping ship throughout his segment.
At one point during his episode, with Poulter in the hot seat, the interviewer asks, ‘Straight up, are you going to LIV?’ Poulter half-scoffs and repeats the question.
‘It’s a business decision,’ he says. ‘It’s an opportunity. So we’ll see.’
With that, the former fan favorite offers a half-smirk and a side-look as ‘Big Bag of Money’ by G-Eyez plays.
This is it. Here we go. All the speculations, rumors, backstabbing, war of words, betrayal and anger is all about to be unloaded… only for the next episode to cut to the story of journeyman Joel Dahmen.
And that’s it. ‘Full Swing’ dips its toe into the controversy here and there, but the Saudi-funded breakaway is barely mentioned until the final episode. In fact, it almost feels like the series treats golf’s big summer of melodrama as a nuisance rather than a springboard to guaranteed entertainment.
And yes, admittedly at times the PGA Tour’s ceaseless battle with LIV Golf has felt more like a soap opera than sport and members at country clubs across the world certainly wouldn’t want their sport turning into a reality TV show.
LIV Golf’s first big mention in the series by Ian Poulter appears to tee up the controversy
But the following episode instead switches to journeyman Joel Dahmen at the US PGA
But golf also experienced blockbuster moments on the course last season too – just take Tiger Woods’s Masters return for example – with the LIV saga an accompaniment. And, after the year the sport has just had, surely they go hand in hand?
But that’s the compromise viewers have to make. With every stray to the juicy LIV segments, the series is quickly steered back on track to the safe storylines of the individual players.
However, the hope may be that non-fans and established gold followers alike will tune in for the LIV controversy but stick around for the human aspect.
While the series fails to live up to its LIV hype, it does provide a never-before-seen view into the emotional rollercoaster of life as a professional golfer – something which, even before LIV made golf more topical, was something that was calling out to be highlighted.
From Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas’s friendship, to a bleached-blonde Brooks Koepka struggling with his steep decline from the peak of his career, to Tony Finau balancing his family of four children and a career, ‘Full Swing’ tells the tale of what it takes to survive on the PGA Tour.
Presenting an intimate portrait of 13 individual players, episodes hop from storyline to storyline but not in golf’s traditional order.
With the series character-based, not calendar-based, the episodes don’t necessarily focus on the sport’s usual biggest chapters of the year – the majors – and even when they are touched upon, they don’t appear in chronological order.
The PGA Championship comes before The Masters, before returning to Southern Hills again, then jumps to the US Open before rewinding again to Augusta – with the 150th Open at St. Andrews the only one appearing in seasonal order.
Bleached-blonde Brooks Koepka struggling with his steep decline from the peak of his career
The series opens by focusing on Justin Thomas (left) and Jordan Spieth’s (right) friendship
The majors’ plotlines don’t necessarily focus on the winners either. While Thomas’ win at the PGA Championship does come in the first episode it comes almost as a subplot to his and Spieth’s ‘frenemy’ relationship, while Dahmer’s episode entirely centers around the same major, which he did not win.
While this may be confusing for existing golf fans, who already know the ins and outs of last season, it is in fact irrelevant for those with basic to zero golfing knowledge, which arguably is the whole point.
‘Drive to Survive’ is responsible for attracting a whole new demographic of Formula One fans, and golf, a sport often seen as stuffy and old fashioned from the outside, is dying for a new generation of followers.
By focusing on the individuals rather than the game, it breaks down those traditional stereotypes and helps to make the players relatable, well, some anyway. Others are exactly who they’re perceived to be.
And once the expectation of LIV being name-dropped every other minute dies down, the footage, storytelling, and unique look into a player’s life on the road shine.
What it does do well is take an individual and often isolating sport and create almost a sense of brotherhood.
It contrasts the skyrocketing rise of Scottie Scheffler alongside Keopka’s mourning of his career, it runs Dustin Johnson’s decision to quit the PGA Tour for LIV Golf at his peak alongside upcoming Matt Fitzpatrick’s breakthrough major win and introduces newcomers Mito Pereira and Sahith Theegala alongside each other.
But just as the suspense to see the plotlines we’ve seen dominate our headlines to hit our screens grows into an unscratchable itch, it finally delivers in the final episode, aptly titled: ‘Everything Has Led To This.’
Fan Favorite Tony Finau discusses balancing family and his career on the road in the show
Episode five follows Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick’s first major victory at the US Open
The series culminates in the ultimate storyline: LIV vs. PGA Tour, packaged up in the form of eventual-defector Cameron Smith’s triumph over McIlroy for the Open title last year.
The McIlroy-focused episode covers the Tiger Woods-led players only meeting in Wilmington, Delaware and Jay Monahan’s announcement of changes.
It finally offers some revealing moments with a bombshell revelation from the four-time major winner that players were blindsided by the ‘mandatory’ elevated events from the commissioner.
Cameras capture a private conversation between McIlroy and Andy Pazder, PGA Tour’s chief of operations, who asks about player reactions to Monahan’s blockbuster news conference the day prior, announcing major restructuring and elevated events.
‘I don’t know if Jay has communicated this to you,’ McIlroy says, ‘but about that ‘mandatory’ … there’s been a lot of blowback on that by the guys in the room.’
‘Really?’ Pazder responds.
‘They were sort of blindsided by it,’ McIlroy says. ‘That’s sort of the feeling. Like, we knew there were going to be four elevated events, but we didn’t know anything about them being mandatory.’
It even throws in a couple of explosive moments of trash talk fans are so desperate to see. The Northern Irishman drops an f-bomb at Phil Mickelson, claiming he hopes the jibe ‘makes it in’, and mocks Patrick Reed’s – his now-‘tee-gate’ nemesis – stint on the Asian Tour.
McIlroy’s appearance in the season finale finally offers some revealing moments
McIlroy’s late U-turn decision to participate in the filming dramatically aided the series as without his leadership authority and fairytale comeback win at the TOUR Championship it would lack any real firepower at all, nevermind a spectacular finale.
But as the final credits begin to roll, it still feels like an opportunity missed.
Golf’s season can be a long grind – and even tedious to those with no pre-existing interest – but for every low there are just as many highs – make it double last year.
Poulter wasn’t wrong when he said Netflix had ‘chosen a helluva year to start following the PGA Tour’. The plotlines were essentially pre-packaged, tied up nicely in a bow and teed up for the producers but it feels as if they have simply been tossed aside.
Arguably it has been a balancing act to ensure ‘Full Swing appeal for different audiences. The newbies need their hand held as they are guided through the format, rules and dynamic of the PGA Tour.
And, while the show explains birdies, missed cuts and match play well, there are not enough original nuggets for those already up to scratch.
Exec Producer Chad Mumm and the show’s creators must be commended for not allowing LIV Golf to entirely hijack the series in the same way Saudi Arabia and its ‘sportswashing agenda’ is seemingly attempting to do to everything else in sport, it needed to greater acknowledge the role the civil war is having in reshaping golf.
Whether the pull of LIV can entice people to switch their televisions on, whether the snapshots into glamor and the hardships of life on tour is enough to keep them tuned in and whether the ever-dangling carrot of golf’s turf war is enough to tempt them into another season remains to be seen.
It’s a swing, but has it missed the fairway?
Source: DailyMail UK