“Full Swing”: The Five Things to Know Before Watching Golf’s New Netflix Show
By Ryan Adams, PGA
Rory McIlroy emerges as one of the key tour players in "Full Swing." (Netflix)
It's here — the show golf fans have been patiently (or impatiently) awaiting.
“Full Swing,” the highly anticipated Netflix documentary chronicling the life of PGA Tour players on and off the course in dramatic fashion, arrived Feb. 15 with plenty of hype. All eight episodes of the show will be available to stream, giving fans the option to spread out the roughly 50 minute episodes or, and it will be tempting, binge them all at once.
Having watched the entire series in spurts, “Full Swing” provides an unvarnished view of what life is like for every player on the PGA Tour — from the megastars seeking another major to the middling player and rookie trying to get that one life-altering win . . . or just make the cut.
Each episode centers around a few characters — or tour players — during different points of the 2022 season, illustrating how positive it went for some and how negative it went for others. While the allure of what a successful career can bring you on the PGA Tour (private jets, personal chefs and trainers, apparel line decision-maker, etc.) is showcased, there’s also the dark side of what happens when the missed cuts pile up and the prize money slows to a drip. Players second-guess themselves if they’re still good enough to compete and a void emerges, making them contemplate their next steps and what the right or wrong move is.
“Full Swing” accomplishes a lot in one season, from laying out the basics (scoring, the cut, the majors) to providing the raw behind-the-scenes footage golf fans crave of their favorite players. There’s a human element to it all, too, which made the show’s F1 sibling “Drive to Survive” so popular. It attempts to cast the characters in a relatable light, leaving the viewer to be the ultimate arbitrator of what they see . . . whether it’s good or bad.
Perhaps PGA Member Mike Thomas, who serves as his son Justin’s coach and appears in the first episode of “Full Swing,” puts it best.
“It was really just doing what we do, so it was no different for me,” says Thomas. "They just happened to be filming it.”
And they filmed a lot. Here are five other themes that permeate the first season of “Full Swing”:
Relationship between Mike and Justin Thomas
When your dad is also your PGA Coach, things can get, well, interesting. Mike Thomas has mastered that balancing act, however, and it’s on display in the opening episode of “Full Swing.” Once play starts, he’s his son’s “friend and coach,” which is hard to comprehend when your child is trying to win the 2022 PGA Championship in a nerve-wracking playoff, but viewers will come to understand why Thomas takes the approach he does — even to the dismay of his son at times. From a PGA Member perspective, the Thomas's relationship is a fascinating watch and showcases the “, PGA” values Mike has tried to instill in Justin. As he says, “My proudest moments are always when someone comes up to us on the course, or anywhere, and tells us how nice and polite he is. That means more to his mom and I than anything.”
The importance of the majors
All sorts of footage from the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Oklahoma is featured throughout “Full Swing,” revealing all the angles of that electric final hour: the pressure of the final hole, and Mito Pereira trying — then failing — to win one of the biggest tournaments of the year; the back-and-forth of the Thomas-Zalatoris playoff, and Thomas emerging victorious, from the unseen/unheard perspective of his mom, dad and wife.
The Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship also have prominent features, as the show bounces from one venue to another following the cast. It’s clear that no matter how the golf year goes every season, the majors are what players live and die by. Brooks Koepka, who had an amazing run winning two U.S Opens and two PGA Championships in 24 months, now is trying to come to grips with a drop-off in performance, desperately trying to find an answer. As he says, “I got a taste of it — now all I want is to win.” Koepka has always been viewed as a cold-blooded major hunter, but in “Full Swing,” he’s strikingly vulnerable.
The grind of “making it”
The mental anguish of the PGA Tour grind consumes every player at some point, whether it’s for five minutes or five years, and “Full Swing” does an excellent job of capturing that premise. Joel Dahmen wonders if he can ever be a top 30 player, even though the closest people around him fully believe it. Ian Poulter contemplates where to go after an early exit from the WGC- Dell Technologies Match Play. Tony Finau visits his childhood townhouse where golf ball dents pepper the outside of the garage door, a reminder of his dad’s humble practice set-up. Matt Fitzpatrick digs into every statistic possible to find an edge, ultimately leading to an emotional win with his family by his side at the 2022 U.S. Open. Sahith Theegala and Pereira try to will themselves to a life-changing win, only to fall heartbreakingly short. There’s opportunity to be had but as “Full Swing” shows, to truly seize victory on the PGA Tour is perhaps one of the hardest accomplishments in sports.
Scenes from the sky . . . and the grillroom
This theme is the show’s bread and butter. It’s what the golf fan craves, and probably will capture the attention of the non-golfer, too. Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth drinking beers and playing high-stakes card games aboard a private plane (with Mike Thomas supervising, of course). The U.S. Open lunch table conversation in The Country Club’s grillroom between the trio of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Collin Morikawa. Tony Finau and his tight-knit family at the breakfast table, each kid rating dad’s egg sandwiches. In "Full Swing," the off-course content is extremely well done, with scenes like McIroy talking about raising his daughter at the Palm Beach Par 3, Spieth and Thomas needling each other, Theegala using a cardboard box for a laundry basket, or Morikawa questioning a new Adidas orange shirt with military green pants combo all making the players feel so much more relatable for viewers.
The rollercoaster ride of the 2022 golf season, from a player perspective
"Full Swing" goes from the WM Phoenix Open through the Tour Championship in 2022, covering just about every big moment you could imagine. While it does showcase the disruptive emergence of LIV Golf, the show does an excellent job of building up the big showdowns of the year, and in a really cool way. Broadcast video and Netflix’s own visuals are paired up with never-before-heard audio from the players, which gives the audience insight as to how they handled the biggest moments. Starting with the PGA Championship, building the hype with the U.S. Open and culminating with a memorable 150th Open Championship and Tour Championship, “Full Swing” finds a way to get every ounce of the season in the show. Each episode probably could’ve been close to 90 minutes but the under-an-hour duration is engaging — and sets a great precedent for a potential second season.