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Fear and loathing on PGA Tour – Netflix’s ‘Full Swing’ documentary series gives insight into how golfers tick


Tony Finau with his family in a scene from the Netflix documentary series, Full Swing

Tony Finau with his family in a scene from the Netflix documentary series, Full Swing

Young golfers Justin Thomas (left) and Jordan Spieth star in the Netflix series Full Swing

Young golfers Justin Thomas (left) and Jordan Spieth star in the Netflix series Full Swing


Tony Finau with his family in a scene from the Netflix documentary series, Full Swing

Netflix's eight-part golf documentary 'Full Swing' is not an explosive exposé on the PGA Tour's battle with LIV but a revealing look inside the minds of a hotchpotch of players, from rookies to major winners and the fears and desires that make them tick.

The LIV Golf controversy is a constant thread during the six-hour series, but die-hard golf fans will learn little they didn't already know about the most disruptive issue to hit professional golf in over a generation.

'Full Swing' is the culmination of thousands of hours of live coverage and video interviews, but perhaps one of the most revealing takes in a series that premiers on February 15 is Rory McIlroy's explanation for what needs to happen now.

Forced by LIV Golf's billion-dollar rivalry to up the ante, the PGA Tour has created a host of "designated" events — 13 massive tournaments with purses of $20 million or more — and players can only skip one of them.

"No other athletes in the world get to choose when and where they play," McIlroy tells Chief Tournaments & Competitions Officer Andy Padzer when explaining how players pushed back against the initial news that these events would be mandatory. "We've all just gotten a little soft."

McIlroy features only occasionally throughout the first seven episodes, but side by side with Cameron Smith, he's the main protagonist of the final episode, 'Everything Has Led to This', which chronicles his failure to win The Open, quickly followed by his third FedEx Cup win in Atlanta.

After eight years without a Major win, it's probably no surprise he rates a FedEx Cup win as high as one of the four grand slam titles.

"I think winning the FedEx Cup is right alongside winning a major championship," McIlroy claims. "To win a major championship, you have to play well for one week out of the year. To win the FedEx Cup, you have to play well the entire year."

He's portrayed accurately in the series as the man playing to maintain the legacy of the game and the tour and trying to leave it in a better place than he found it.

But while he feels the game's traditions are also holding it back from being as good as it could be, especially in the digital age.

The series shines a light on the very different mindsets of a host of players from modest journeymen like Joel Dahmen or rookies Mito Pereira and Sahith Theegala to stars like Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter and their agendas.


Tony Finau with his family in a scene from the Netflix documentary series, Full Swing

Tony Finau with his family in a scene from the Netflix documentary series, Full Swing

Tony Finau with his family in a scene from the Netflix documentary series, Full Swing

Having interviewed and followed dozens of subjects, Netflix struck gold in focusing on US Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick, US PGA winner Justin Thomas and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler as well the stories of Chilean Pereira, who blew the PGA on the final hole as a fan is heard shouting, "Biggest shot of your life, let's do it" when he was about to try and make the closing par he needed to make his first win a Major.

There's a fascinating insight into family man and perceived underachiever Tony Finau and how the death of his mother in a 2011 car crash has affected his life.

But perhaps the most revealing interviews are those with the LIV Golf 'rebels' Johnson, Koepka and Poulter.

Koepka's chip-on-the-shoulder attitude made him a four-time Major-winning superstar in just a few years.

But injuries and poor putting have destroyed his confidence, and not knowing what the future holds, he's made the jump to LIV.

Before he makes that leap, his girlfriend, now wife, former beauty queen Jena Sims, senses his panic about his game and his confidence.

"Our first couple of years, he was winning left and right and there weren't many struggles," she says between takes of her showing Koepka her lingerie and making wedding plans. "Now I think in the back of his head he's hearing these voices, like 'you can't do this'. I do worry about the future."

Koepka confirms her fears by saying: "My whole career is going straight up and all of a sudden, I don't want to say we are on the other side of it, but we are going down now. This is the worst I have struggled in my whole life. I have to figure out how to get the fuck out of this thing before it gets too late."

When he takes the LIV Golf money after the US Open, he explains how hard it is to turn down hundreds of millions of dollars.

"It's tough not to take care of your family, man," says Koepka, who goes blank at one stage when asked who won this year's Masters. "To know that my kids' kids and my grandkids' grandkids are taken care of. … I'm happy with the decision I have made."

Swashbuckling Johnson is an alpha male type character, and having won 24 PGA TOUR titles, including the US Open and the Masters, and spent 135 weeks as world No 1 (more than McIlroy), he felt he had nothing more to prove and millions to gain by joining LIV Golf.

"For me, it was playing less, making more money," Johnson said. "Pretty simple.

If someone offered anyone a job, doing the same thing they are already doing, but less time at the office, and they are going to pay 'em more, pretty sure you are going to take it. And something's wrong with you if you didn't."

Johnson is married to Paulina, the daughter of ice hockey's greatest player, Wayne Gretzky, who summarises the pressure on golfers to look to their families first and the fans second.

"Why does my dad have to play on my birthday?" she said when recalling her childhood days when her father was 'the Great One', playing over 80 games a season. "This is about Dustin and the kids and me and taking care of us and being there with us."

As for Poulter, another family man, his declining game at the age of 47 is clearly a factor in his decision, not to mention his ego.

Like all big stars, they don't want the spotlight to go away and LIV Golf offers him that chance, as well as guaranteed money.

"I don't want to feel like my time is coming to an end as a competitor," Poulter admits in episode three, 'Money or Legacy', where he is seen comparing his count of Twitter followers (2.2 million) to other big players.

After coverage of him missing cuts, throwing items against the locker room wall and failing to qualify for events, he takes the plunge.

"I think I bring a personality, I think I bring an individual who has been super successful through his career," Poulter says. "I have a great social media following. This is a platform for me to continue being the personality that I've been for the past 24 years on tour. It's the right decision for myself and for my family. Deep down inside, I feel comfortable with my decision, and that's what you have to guide yourself by."

As for McIlroy, who already has hundreds of millions in the bank, it's clear he sees himself as a guardian of the legacy created by the greats of the past, including his close friend Tiger Woods.

He's heard making a few light-hearted swipes at Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson. When a Golf Channel interviewer mentions his surprise at Patrick Reed playing two Asian Tour event in May in his quest for world ranking points, McIlroy says, “And dropped spots in the world rankings. Beautiful. Beautiful.”

Later, in a clip of some locker room banter between McIlroy and some masseurs, McIlroy jokes about someone being a Phil Mickelson fan and jokingly shouts, “F**k you, Phil” adding, “I hope that makes it in (the documentary)”.

But when he wins his third FedEx Cup in Atlanta, it's clear what means most to him, and that's being considered a peer of Woods and one of the greats of the game.

As he sips a celebratory glass of red wine after his Tour Championship win and his third FedEx Cup win at East Lake, he scrolls through his text messages and smiles at the first message he sees.

"He's always the first," he explains. "Always. Tiger. Like, he'll text you before the last putt drops. Always the first. He's unreal.”

Full Swing is now available to stream on Netflix

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