‘Full Swing’ offers new level of PGA TOUR access: Documentary is surprisingly emotional, but what was it like for players themselves?
“Full Swing,” the Netflix documentary that chronicles the 2022 PGA TOUR season and is set to be released Feb. 15, is a surprisingly emotional watch. Surprising because if you’re a golf fan, you know most of what’s going to happen, and yet it still hits home with vignettes of fathers and sons, battles won and lost, and sacrifices by friends and family.
The emotionality is a credit to the creatives as the series makes great use of home movies, multiple edits, and a strong soundtrack. Episode 1 especially tugs at the heartstrings.
“All it takes is one week and your life changes,” Justin Thomas says in the series trailer.
What the cameras capture off the course ranges from the relatable – Thomas going to CVS seeking relief from his allergies – to the intimate. You see players with their families and pets (redefining the term “WAG”). Viewers ride on private jets, peek inside million-dollar homes and revel in the rowdiness of the 16th hole at the WM Phoenix Open.
That’s the viewing experience. But what was it like to be in it?
“They were everywhere,” Tony Finau, a two-time winner last season, said of the crew. “On off-weeks they were home with me. I felt like they did a lot of filming. I knew when I said yes that that was a possibility. I told my wife. She was all-in; she didn’t mind it.
“It got to a point where it felt like they were just a fly on the wall,” he added. “We got to know the crew because it was the same people. They visited Utah, we had a great old time. They ended up being people I’d call friends now. I’ve got a great relationship with some of them.”
Jordan Spieth also seemed to be having a great time, as did Thomas.
“I didn’t really give as much access as a lot of other guys, but I thought it was cool,” Spieth said. “For me, it’ll be a me-and-Justin kind of episode. They did some stuff at the house here and there a little bit. I thought they were very professional; if I asked for some time away, they were great. If I said, ‘Hey, you should come and see this,’ they were ready to go.
“I’m interested to watch,” Spieth added. “It’ll be cool. I think because of how cordial and respectful they were, guys opened up more, which I think will make for good content.”
Crucially, the series had inside access not just at PGA TOUR events but also the four majors, which are put on by Augusta National Golf Club, the PGA of America, the United States Golf Association, and The R&A. The result: episodes that offer new insights and texture from three of the four major champions, even those, like Thomas, who didn’t green-light every single request (Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and U.S. Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick also were involved in the series).
“My thing was I’m not gonna alter my schedule, my life, the way I go about things,” Thomas said. “If they wanted to be a fly on the wall, that was fine, but I’m big on not wanting them to affect how I go about things or the people around me. They did a great job.”
So did Thomas, who came from seven shots behind to win the PGA Championship at Southern Hills. That gave him his first major title in five years, and was a huge win for “Full Swing,” too.
“I think it’s going to be cool,” said Thomas, whose father/coach, Mike, also participated. “We did a couple sit-downs throughout the year. They got me working out.”
Another victory for the docuseries was its content capture with Fitzpatrick, who was the story of the week going into the U.S. Open at The Country Club – and won.
“It was fun, yeah,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was different. It took a while to get used to it, to be fair. By the end it was not easy, but it was comfortable. They were everywhere; I gave them pretty good access. I figured if I was going to do it, I was going to be all-in. They were very respectful, not pushy. They were there during the U.S. Open, which was convenient.
“I don’t know what footage they’ll use,” added Fitzpatrick, a fan of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and “The Crown.” To be fair, as he might say, no one knows what footage they’ll use.
“Full Swing” was produced by Vox Media Studios and Box To Box Films, which also produced the acclaimed “Formula 1: Drive to Survive.” Executive producers are David Check (30 for 30, Four Days in October); Chad Mumm and Mark Olsen for Vox Media Studios; and James Gay-Rees and Paul Martin for Box to Box Films.
In addition to the above stars, other players featured include Collin Morikawa, Sahith Theegala, Joel Dahmen, Dustin Johnson, Ian Poulter, Joaquin Niemann, Mito Pereira, and, in a relatively late surprise announcement when the trailer was released, FedExCup champion Rory McIlroy.
What will make the grade? What will hit the cutting room floor? The makers of “Full Swing” got so much great content they could make a great show out of just the leftovers. Indeed, it’s an open question how the editors will weave it all in.
What is not in question is whether the players will tune in.
“I definitely will watch it,” Fitzpatrick said. He laughed. “I’ll admit it: I’m nosy about other golfers. I want to know what’s going on in their houses.”