Netflix has found huge success turning Formula One racing into reality television with the series Drive to Survive. This year, they’re turning their eyes to other individual sports, hoping to replicate that success. Hot on the heels of last month’s debut of the tennis-focused Break Point comes a PGA golf-centered series, Full Swing. Can lightning strike again?
FULL SWING: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: A brief, sweeping shot of the storied grounds of St. Andrew’s in Scotland quickly gives way to a dramatically-scored montage of golfers talking about their aspirations, lifestyle, pressures and more. It’s a prime reality show intro: we’re frontloading the personalities and the drama, and we’re hammering it hard.
The Gist: With the rousing success of the racing-focused reality show Drive To Survive–the sixth season of which debuts later this month–it was only a matter of time before Netflix attempted to apply the formula to other sports in need of fan growth. Last month, the tennis-focused Break Point debuted, and with Full Swing, they’ve moved onto PGA golf. In the same way that Drive To Survive turned little-known-in-America drivers into reality TV stars, Full Swing strives to expand golf’s viewer base by focusing on the personalities behind those names on the leaderboard. As with the other series, Full Swing will take us through a full season of competition, highlighting different personalities along the way.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Netflix hopes very much that this will remind you of Drive to Survive, and I am fully confident that that was how it was pitched internally.
Our Take: Following in the Drive To Survive mold, Full Swing is not shy about the fact that it wants to turn professional golfers into reality-television characters. If they help you get to know these players, the thinking goes, you’ll be much more invested in whether they win or lose each week.
The first episode of Full Swing is titled “Frenemies”, and dives right into that idea, focusing on two of the tour’s top young golfers, Justin “JT” Thomas and Jordan Spieth, both of whom have ranked number one in the world at one point in their still-young careers. The two banter like old friends do in an early scene–the only difference being that they’re bantering on a private jet. The two recount playing against each other since they were 13 years old, a rivalry that’s also become a close friendship.
The show clearly intends to make the barrier to entry as low as possible for viewers, some of whom may not have much knowledge of golf. In a brief segment early in the first episode, PGA broadcaster Amanda Renner takes a moment to explain the format of PGA tour events, and even quickly explains golf scoring and defines the term “par”. It’s not heavy-handed, and it’s brief enough that it shouldn’t make experienced golf fans feel like they’ve signed up for a “golf for dummies” exercise. It’s just enough, and it’s a wise move–the very clear intent of Full Swing is to grow the game, and a large part of that is bringing in viewers who currently don’t watch golf at all.
Looming over both the first episode–and the whole season at large–is the drama surrounding the upstart LIV Golf tournament, which has used massive outlays of cash from its Saudi financial backers to woo established golfers away from the PGA Tour, including former champions like Phil Mickelson. The battle between the well-funded upstart and the established mainstay became deeply acrimonious over the last year, with the PGA threatening bans for golfers who signed with LIV. This drama promises to be a major factor in Full Swing–and also a major reason for the show’s existence. With some of the big-name defections to the new tour, there’s both a need and an opening for new stars to step up on the PGA Tour, and Full Swing might just be the boost they need to get there.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: After Thomas outduels Will Zalatoris in a playoff to win the 2022 PGA Championship, his second major championship, he takes a brief moment to exhale and celebrate. Then, we’re right into a fast-paced montage of what’s to come in the rest of the season.
Sleeper Star: As charming as Thomas and Spieth are, it’s too early to tell from one episode just who’s going to be the most engaging personality of the season. In the meantime, though, broadcaster Amanda Renner serves as an important and welcome guide for the viewer, dropping in to offer context and explanation where needed.
Most Pilot-y Line: “He’s one of my best friends,” Thomas says about Spieth. “We’re always going to pull for each other, but at the same time, y’know, I hope that I beat him in every single tournament that we play in for the rest of our lives.”
Our Call: STREAM IT. Whether you’re a seasoned golf fan or someone who only has a vague awareness of the sport’s existence, Full Swing is a great way to latch onto the inherent drama behind the competition.
Scott Hines is an architect, blogger and proficient internet user based in Louisville, Kentucky who publishes the widely-beloved Action Cookbook Newsletter.
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