When there’s a documentary film or series about the Michael Jordan Bulls or Nolan Ryan or the 2008 “Redeem Team” or the 1983 NFL draft, I’ll readily admit I’m pre-sold going in, given my level of interest in the subject matter or the sport.
An eight-part documentary series taking us behind the scenes of the PGA tour? That’s not exactly in my sports-fan wheelhouse. Sure, I like to tune in on Sundays to watch the final round of the majors and a few other championships, and I can name maybe 20 of the world’s top golfers — but I’m a casual fan and also certifiably, historically, astonishingly bad at golf.
This is my three-putt approach to telling you the Netflix series “Full Swing” is so compelling and well-filmed (and edited), and is brimming with so many intriguing storylines, even a casual golf fan like me can find it absolutely binge-worthy. My guess is the regular weekend golfer who also avidly follows the game will find it addictively watchable, as the series follows the PGA tour throughout the 2022 season — and the timing couldn’t have been better for some added drama, given the advent of the controversial, Saudi Arabia-funded LIV Golf and the threat it poses to the PGA.
Each of the eight episodes of “Full Swing” focuses on one or two players, with director Gabe Spitzer’s crews given access to homes, cars, private jets, clubhouses. In a sport where guys named Justin and Jordan and Dustin and Cameron aren’t always the most colorful personalities on or off the course, it’s great to see the likes of the no-nonsense Brooks Koepka opening up at least a little bit and showing a self-deprecating side, as when he turns down donuts from then fiancé, now wife Jena Sims, saying, “My fat ass don’t need any, I’m good.” (Koepka’s manse in Jupiter, Florida, looks like a mid-sized resort, and Jena is a stunner who comes across as upbeat and supportive and wonderful. Life is good, Brooks. Enjoy.)
Even the reserved and legendarily studious Matt Fitzpatrick — the British pro who still looks like a junior caddy and has kept a written record of nearly every shot he’s ever taken, even on the driving range — flashes a sense of humor and is instantly endearing. Kudos to director Spitzer for seemingly wearing down his subjects by sheer ubiquity; you can see some of the golfers gradually letting down their guard and getting used to the omnipresent cameras.
Later episodes center on Ian Poulter, the colorful and popular British veteran who is near the end of his competitive career and is considering an offer to join LIV Golf for tens of millions of dollars, and the down-to-earth Joel Dahmen, who looks like a guy who should be drinking beers in the stands and cheerfully cracks, “Someone’s gotta be the 70th best golfer in the world, it might as well be me!” (Spoiler alert: The 70th best golfer is still a hell of a talent, as evidenced by Dahmen’s tie for 10th place in the 2022 U.S. Open.)
One of my favorite episodes in the series features two of the brightest talents in the game: Collin Morikawa, 26, who already has five PGA tour wins including two majors on his resumé and is a perfectionist down to the color schemes on the outfits he wears and the fit of his gloves, and Tony Finau, 33, who has a Top 5 finish in each of the majors and has a skill set to rank with anyone’s, but has endured criticism about “distractions” because he often brings his wife Alayna and their children on tour with him.
The final episode follows the PGA/LIV Golf controversy as it heats up, with a number of veteran players jumping to the upstart league despite political and civil rights controversies due to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Public Investment Fund backing the entire endeavor with hundreds of millions of dollars. The charismatic and greatly talented Irishman Rory McIlroy, arguably the most popular and influential member of the PGA tour since Tiger Woods, is a traditionalist who spearheads the efforts to incentivize the tour’s best players not to jump ship and doesn’t hide his disdain for Phil Mickelson, who initially expressed concerns about Saudi Arabia’s abhorrent human rights record but then took a reported $200 million to join LIV Golf. At one point, McIlroy exclaims, “F— you Phil!” and then says, “I hope that makes it in.”