As I walked out of my room last week I made eye contact with one of my roommates. Tears in my eyes I looked right at her and said, “This may be the straightest thing I will ever say, but the golf documentary on Netflix has me crying right now.” Regardless of how I felt about golf going into the docu-series called “Full Swing” on Netflix, I certainly left it admiring players on the tour and feeling the emotion behind their struggles on the course. “Full Swing” is now the third sports related docu-series to appear on the streaming service since the incredible success of “Drive to Survive” (DTS), the Formula One (F1) docu-series, was released. In the past I have critiqued DTS and its five seasons and have recently reviewed “Break Point,” the tennis docu-series, however for this installment of my reviews I would like to not only review, but compare “Full Swing” to its docu-series siblings.
Beginning with a review of “Full Swing,” I think it did a lot of things well. For one, it only focused on one golfer, his career, his home life and his recent successes and/or failures on the tour in each episode. This gave you as the viewer an incredibly personal insight into the lives of each golfer and made the action and the intensity of each tournament and each week a whole lot more potent. Compared to the other docu-series, which focus on a handful of tennis players or F1 drivers in each episode, “Full Swing” kept it simple as it is a lot harder to follow many athletes in each episode. You then have to keep in mind each of their careers, seasons and performances individually at tournaments or races, which can become mixed up and jumbled if memory does not serve the viewer perfectly.
Focusing on one athlete each episode made the series and made golf a much easier sport and concept to jump into without any prior knowledge. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, “Full Swing” did not force drama or try to create drama between any of the athletes. Good television and particularly sports television can become incredibly compelling when there is drama between teams or people, which isn’t always present from season to season. It was clear to see in both the tennis and F1 docu-series that Netflix at certain points was running out of opportunities to naturally fill in drama and had to perpetuate false statements and/or leave out certain moments of the season because it didn’t fulfill their dramatic intentions. Going back to the fact that “Full Swing” focused on one athlete at a time, there didn’t need to be artificial drama because all the drama came from the athlete’s individual performances at the tournament that week.
Now, perhaps, for those that follow golf or are even just loosely engaged in the sports world, it can be said that the PGA tour was naturally infused with an almost absurd amount of drama during the past season. This was due to the fact that a Saudi Arabian-backed Golf League known as LIV Golf began last year as a rival league to the PGA tour. This created a lot of natural drama amongst the famous golfers who were either staying in the prestigious PGA Tour or leaving it to go to Saudi Arabia for a larger paycheck. Therefore external drama outside of the individual performance each week of every athlete was naturally occurring throughout the series. LIV Golf was the golden ticket that Netflix needed to spare their writers’ room the headache of coming up with an overarching theme of drama that would divide the PGA tour—in this instance and this instance alone for Netflix: thank god for Saudi Arabia.
Certainly a downfall of “Full Swing” is that they did not explain the hierarchy in setup of LIV Golf and how it rivals the PGA Tour to a larger extent. Rather the viewer, if they are not already invested in the golf world, did not take away anything more from the drama other than Saudi Arabia offering huge payouts to the athletes willing to leave the PGA Tour. But to Netflix’s credit, they did a fantastic job of portraying why each golfer who did decide to leave the PGA tour made up their mind as to why they left. Be it a failed career as a PGA athlete or the simple desire to provide more for their family, it was made very clear why top athletes such as Dustin Johnson left the PGA tour in the Netflix series.
“Break Point” rarely had the opportunity to dive into the lives of the tennis players in such a way and the tennis docu-series suffered because of it. While “Break Point” did a good job of showing how each athlete overcomes their mental health struggles it did not have the same connection to tennis as “Full Swing” was able to accomplish with golf. But “Full Swing,” while doing better than “Break Point,” still stands in the shadow of DTS because of one characteristic of the sport that will not change: action. Golf is simply a slower sport than F1 and race cars will always move faster than a golf ball. Because of this, the F1 docu-series is going to continue to take first place amongst the other docu-series on Netflix.
The original set an incredibly high bar to meet, while “Break Point,” having only half of its first season released and still has the possibility of becoming better than what it is now, has not yet met that bar. But “Full Swing” put in a good faith effort, and while not overcoming the bar set by DTS”, certainly came pretty close to it on its own merit. “Full Swing” broke from the “Drive to Survive” blueprint in a few ways: focus on one athlete at a time and do not force the drama. And while future seasons may rely on forced or artificial drama when the natural drama subsides, it can be said that for season 1 of “Full Swing” it has done its job of making golf more understandable and bringing in new viewers to the sport!