If you weren’t a fan of golf, to begin with, then you might be picking up a set of clubs by the end of Full Swing.
BY JOHN MCDONALD MARCH 1, 2023
The sporting docuseries genre is one which has hit dizzying heights in recent years. First, there was 2019’s Formula One: Drive to Survive, a series that somehow made F1 seem exciting before The Last Dance took things to starry new levels a year later. And now, for all the golf fanatics out there (and there’s an awful lot of them), you can enjoy Netflix’s new docuseries, Full Swing, an eight-part series that ventures into the world of the PGA Tour. It follows a group of carefully chosen professionals as they deal with this often cutthroat but highly rewarding sport. At the same time, the threat of the rival and hugely controversial LIV Golf Tour also appears in golf’s rear-view mirror – if you weren’t a fan of golf, to begin with, then you might be picking up a set of clubs by the end of Full Swing.
The Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour has stolen the headlines in the world of golf over the past 12 months or so, with the country seemingly using golf to “sports wash” their own human-rights record. Netflix couldn’t have picked a more interesting year to delve into the world of the sport; a year of “disruption” as one journalist puts it, and it surely makes for epic viewing. The series is an incredibly personal one, as it investigates the ins and outs of the PGA Tour, how the golfers split their time between competition and family – or in Tony Finau’s case, just bring them along to every event – while touching on the heartbreak of failure and what the temptation of greed can do to some of the huge names of the sport.
On the surface, it seems that professional golfers have it easy: travelling to exotic locations on private jets, earning millions of dollars in prize money to hit a tiny white ball into a slightly bigger hole. They are only being rewarded for their tremendous skill and thousands of hours spent practising in solitude. What Full Swing does fantastically is by humanising this group of jet setters to the point they become alike to the person you sit next to at work. ‘Frenemies’ (episode 1) is perfect at pushing this point as you watch the competitiveness between best friends, and two of the most skilled golfers on the tour, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Pals since the age of 13, the playful and “laddish” relationship they possess is exactly the same as you might have had with your childhood friend, but when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, their business heads are screwed on – and for the first year in their careers, Thomas might just have the edge over his buddy.
The taste of success; winning tournament after tournament is about as sweet as gets for a golfer. But when things take a turn and the wins begin to wither away, that’s when it becomes a mental battle with the course. ‘Win or Go Home’ shares with you the career of former world number one (the best golfer by a country mile for a two-year spell) Brooks Koepka, as he tumbles down the ladder of success as quick as a McIlroy tee shot. The intimate footage of Koepka’s home life and the strain that failure has on him is dark and incredibly intense – and with every future failure, his green eyes slowly begin to pan towards the lucrative prizes that LIV Golf offer.
And this is the source of this rival organization's roster of players: formerly successful (or you could call them washed up) players no longer able to keep up with the younger generation. Players such as Dustin Johnson and Ian Poulter are two others that saw the bright lights and the big money of LIV while claiming “I’m doing the best thing for my family,” which seems to be the go-to answer for all these LIV robots. But Full Swing is brilliant at switching the focus to the others, those golfers that are in it for the love of the sport, regardless of success even.
One of the best episodes is called ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and features the extremely likeable Joel Dahmen. "Somebody's gotta be the 70th-best golfer in the world, and it might as well be me,” Dahmen says explaining his ranking compared to his skill to the interviewer. The exploration of this man’s life as he talks about family tragedy and a severe lack of success never extinguishes the flame that burns inside him for the sport he loves – it’s salt of the earth characters like Dahmen, Matt Fitzpatrick, and Tony Finau that take this series to a higher level, and a far more relatable one.
Full Swing has a little bit of everything to make it an enticing sporting docuseries. It has the characters, the controversy, and the moments of tension and excitement while being expertly filmed with such skill and effect. But Full Swing’s biggest achievement is that it doesn’t succumb to the allure of LIV Golf by focusing solely on it. Golf is far more than some rival organization, and by watching this docuseries, you will be awakened by the power and the beauty of the game, while becoming bewitched by its star players.