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Full Swing

 

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‘Full Swing’ review: Netflix’s golf series gets the big moments right

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA - MARCH 07:  Justin Thomas of the United States is recorded by a camera crew during a practice round prior to THE PLAYERS Championship on THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 07, 2023 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)
By Brody Miller
Mar 4, 2024

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Rory McIlroy was walking into the locker room at Oak Hill, his caddie and manager in tow, ready to blow it all up. He’d just finished tied for seventh at the PGA Championship in May 2023, and Brooks Koepka was on his way to passing McIlroy for his fifth career major.

And the “Full Swing” cameras were there.

“I almost feel like I want to do a complete reboot,” McIlroy said, hunched over on a bench.

“No you don’t,” manager Sean O’Flaherty said.

“No, I do. Because I feel like it’s the only way I’m gonna break through.”

O’Flaherty began to bite his nails and looked up at caddie Harry Diamond like a man who’d been through this before. McIlroy had just earned his fifth top-10 finish in his last six major championships. He was undeniably one of the three best golfers in the world. But at that moment …

“It feels so far away,” McIlroy said.

That’s in the first episode of the second season of Netflix’s “Full Swing” documentary series, a season that takes a clear and substantial leap from its debut. If Season 1 felt like an entertaining but generic and surface-level introduction to golf for new audiences, Season 2 is more of a lived-in, compelling narrative that gets into tough subjects and tells a complete story. If the former had an “everything is great!” vibe, the latter is raw and allows you to hang out in the little details of difficult moments (and the great ones).

It feels like it properly tells the story of what happened in golf in 2023, for better or worse. And yes, some might be because 2023 gave Netflix much more to work with. It allowed the season to smartly frame itself by opening with the tension around the PGA Tour’s potential deal with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and then build the framing around the buildup to the Ryder Cup. Then it could dedicate two episodes to the United States versus Europe. But it also learned how to lean into those elements in ways the first season didn’t.

Some of it is about comfort. Showrunner Chad Mumm said Season 1, chronicling 2022 on the PGA Tour and LIV’s first moments, shot 750 hours of raw footage with 3,000 hours of archives brought in. This year it was 900 hours shot with 10,000 hours of archives.

“I think that we just became part of the fabric of life on tour in a way that was harder in Year 1 just only because we were brand new and nobody had seen the show,” Mumm said.

That’s the difference. That mixed with a better feel for how to pair storylines in an episode to tell a larger story about golf. You can feel the difference, leading to more raw moments of sincerity.

Play: Video

When the shocking June 6 announcement came about the framework agreement with PIF, the cameras were already inside Justin Thomas’ house and caught his reaction as he watched PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan on TV. They were at a Waffle House with Joel Dahmen and his caddie, Geno Bonnalie, as they saw it on their phones. They were in the car with Collin Morikawa and caddie Jonathan Jakovac spiraling in shock. Shortly after, they got McIlroy in the car, upset, saying, “I’m almost at the point where it’s like, f— it, do what you wanna do.” And then they could parallel all this with a shot of Dustin Johnson driving a boat, shades on and feeling validated in his decision to jump to LIV the year prior.

But they use that access in intelligent ways. The episode structures feel much more nuanced than in Season 1, when it was often, “Look, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth are friends,” or, “Tony Finau and Collin Morikawa are different.” Episode 1 balances the contrasting arcs of McIlroy and Koepka as they search for major No. 5. Episode 2 dives into the June 6 reaction while following one golfer who went to LIV, Johnson, and another whom many thought would, Rickie Fowler, as he has a comeback season.

“Full Swing” also digs into the real-life impact the first season had on some of its participants. Episode 3 is perhaps the season’s best, focusing on mental health in golf by showing the parallel of Wyndham Clark being given an ultimatum by caddie John Ellis and having his breakout, major-winning season and Dahmen becoming a massive star — because of the show — and not knowing how to handle it. You see a struggling golfer coming to terms with his issues in real time while those around him try to get through to him. Combining these stories was brilliant.

Joel Dahmen’s popularity on the PGA Tour grew as a result of his “Full Swing” appearance. (Junfu Han / USA Today)

It’s safe to say no golfer will come out of this season more beloved than Keegan Bradley. There’s an earnestness in his Ryder Cup pursuit and an extreme maturity in how he handles having the cameras on him as he takes the disappointing call from U.S. captain Zach Johnson.

That rawness is the difference. Having a cute episode about 21-year-old rising star Tom Kim is one thing. It’s another to commit time to how he rubs some people the wrong way and the lessons he has to learn as he goes through this maturation process. You see players taking him under their wings, but you also see all of them consistently giving him flak and trying to humble him. (Scottie Scheffler and Spieth, two fellow Dallas-area golfers, appear to be the leaders of this operation.)

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It’s one thing to commit an episode to the Fitzpatrick brothers. It’s another to have Alex Fitzpatrick, who isn’t even on the PGA Tour, not holding back that he is sick and frustrated about being known as Matt’s less successful little brother. It makes his incredible Open Championship run so much more rewarding.

Sure, you have moments when you wonder why we hear almost nothing of Jon Rahm’s Masters win and his move to LIV. We don’t meet Brian Harman even as he runs away with the Open Championship. Scheffler got a chunk of an episode in Season 1, but we hardly hear a peep about the world No. 1 this time around. That’s not a complaint — you won’t get every major winner every season. The best stuff is earned, not retroactively forced.

And no, Netflix won’t always have massive, sport-altering news each June. It won’t have the Ryder Cup each year. But one comes away from Season 2 with confidence that this has sincere value. And there’s a growing sense that each new installment will add more comfort, access and fully formed stories that can organically show you the journey that is men’s professional golf.

“Just being there for now two years of it,” Mumm said, “going into our third year feels like there’s a lot of trust. Everybody knows our crews now, and hopefully that means we fade away honestly and become part of the background and that allows us to capture the stuff that ends up making it into the show, the real stuff.”

I enjoyed the first season, but I thought there was a limit to my enjoyment. I didn’t want Season 2 to end. That’s because of the real stuff.

(Top photo of Justin Thomas: Cliff Hawkins / Getty Images)

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Brody Miller

Brody Miller covers golf and the LSU Tigers for The Athletic. He came to The Athletic from the New Orleans Times-Picayune. A South Jersey native, Miller graduated from Indiana University before going on to stops at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Indianapolis Star, the Clarion Ledger and NOLA.com. Follow Brody on Twitter @BrodyAMiller

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P

Patrick S.

· Mon

So many golfers (looking at your Cantlay) seem to think the entirety of their job is to show up and play and that's all the entertainment fans are paying for. In the case of a Bubba Watson or Phil, or Seve, that was plenty because it was compelling.

So much of modern golf is risk adverse not go for broke, so it's much more accurate and sustainable, but it is not compelling. This goes so much further towards really helping the supporters get to know the players they can only project emotion onto.


B

Bob N.

· Mon

Nothings going to make Keegan beloved in my book. He's an odd ball.


P

Percy C.

· Mon

I did not realize Joel Dahmon struggled to handle his popularity. That’s a storyline I’m looking forward to seeing.




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