Full Swing: Golf’s Netflix docuseries lays bare rancour between PGA Tour and LIV Golf, but will it do a Drive to Survive?
When Netflix weighed up what to call its latest behind-the-scenes sport documentary, this time about life on golf’s PGA Tour, it plumped for the beige Full Swing.
It might have been better off choosing Making A Wedge, such is the preoccupation with money that runs through the eight-part series, or Taking Out The Pin, given the explosive impact caused by the launch of the rival LIV Golf series, which casts a huge shadow on the show.
Like Drive To Survive, the streaming platform’s wildly successful Formula 1 docuseries, Full Swing examines a season on the PGA Tour through the lens of several leading players, who bring their own storylines and personalities.
So we get episodes about the friendship and rivalry of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas; Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter raging against the dying of the light; Scottie Scheffler and Matt Fitzpatrick joining the ranks of major winners; and Rory McIlroy finding renewed purpose in fighting for the future of the tour.
But LIV Golf is the game-changer which colours most of the storylines and conversations – just as the Saudi-backed, mega-money circuit continues to do in the sport. It is this ingredient, a once-in-a-generation intervention that causes deep and bitter divides between the players, that makes Full Swing far more compelling than it looked on paper when announced in early 2022.
LIV’s recruits have been widely vilified but here Koepka, Poulter and Dustin Johnson at least get to state their cases, which they do with greater candour and relatability than in some of their more combative media appearances.
Yet while the issue is not presented as entirely black and white, there is no doubt where the Netflix programme’s sympathies unsurprisingly lie. One episode that deals with the dilemma facing players is titled “Money Or Legacy”, while footage of the first LIV event is soundtracked by a track called “Big Ol Bag of Money”. Subtle, it ain’t.
The split caused by LIV leads to some juicy moments of player-on-player bitching, such as McIlroy mocking defector Patrick Reed’s fall down the rankings – “beautiful!” – and disparaging one of the new circuit’s poster boys, Phil Mickelson, roaring “F*** you, Phil!” while joking with peers in the clubhouse. But there are no actual bust-ups even of the schoolboy level seen between McIlroy and Reed in real life last week.
Poulter gets some of the best lines, with one pink and blue pair of trousers prompting one commentator to remark that “he looks like a walking gender reveal party”, and has enough charisma to carry his own show. He and Tony Finau, the gentle giant who has taken his wife and five kids on tour, are easy to warm to. The emotionally deserted Koepka less so, while Spieth, Thomas, Scheffler and Collin Morikawa are mostly nice but dull.
McIlroy is the undoubted star, however, and one of the strengths of Full Swing is that, unlike its Netflix tennis sibling Break Point, it does feature interviews and fly-on-the-wall footage with most of the biggest names. Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau are the only obvious absentees, while Tiger Woods is oft-referenced but is not interviewed.
The series reaches a satisfying crescendo as McIlroy, our hero now positively thriving in his role as a figurehead of the LIV resistance, vies for The Open and then the PGA Tour’s final prize, the Tour Championship. The jury is out, however, on whether the characters and storylines in Full Swing, even with the added spice of a rival tour, can emulate Drive To Survive and pull in a new generation of fans.