The latest inside-track sports series in the Netflix canon (in the wake of the FI-based Drive to Survive), follows professional golf on the PGA Tour during the 2022 season. Full Swing, the first couple of episodes of which were released in the middle of last week (hey, surely the perfect Valentine’s Day present!?❤️), got lucky with its opener about the friendship/rivalry between Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. It wasn’t that it contained anything particularly stunning but it was helped immensely by the fine timing of Thomas winning his second major, the USPGA Championship, last year, thereby making it two in all for him, one fewer than Spieth, whose collection includes the other three.
The second episode primarily focused on Brooks Koepka, now 32 years old, who won the US Open and USPGA Championship twice apiece between 2017-9. His last 18 starts in the major championships prior to last season extraordinarily included nine other top-10s; at the Masters in 2019, he had a 12-footer at the final hole which would have forced a playoff with Tiger Woods. Then things went south.
At last year’s Phoenix Open, where the crowds are the craziest in golf (Koepka describes it in the documentary as “it almost feels like real sport”), Koepka finished a shot out of the playoff in which Scottie Scheffler would win his first PGA Tour event. Since the beginning of 2022, Koepka’s career has primarily been about losing. He says at one point in the film: “My whole career has been going straight up and all of a sudden, I don’t want to say the other side, but OK, we’re going down now.” That audio clip is played over him and his (now) wife, Jena, playing around the pool at their luxurious condo in Jupiter, Florida; elsewhere he admits at times he’s talking to her while trying analyse what’s going wrong with his swing. (There are quite a few expletives here.)
Ahead of the Masters, Koepka told Full Swing: “I go back to the last major I won. I’d pay back every dollar I’ve ever made in this game just to have that feeling again, like for another hour.” Brooks doesn’t do too much poignancy but that was pretty powerful, I thought. He made three birdies in 36 holes at Augusta and missed the cut. Scheffler won and collected his fourth title in 57 days. That was April. The aforementioned Phoenix tournament had been in February. By June, Koepka had taken his grumbling game off to LIV Golf – see photo on the home page. (Asked on camera about perhaps doing that, he gave what seemed to be a knowing laugh.)
There are some relatively minor technical issues with the series – for example, Koepka at one point talks of wanting to step on someone’s throat (a phrase I have always found distasteful) which Netflix subtitles as “someone’s throne”(or perhaps they were acceding to my sensitivities?); setting up the Thomas/Will Zalatoris playoff at Southern Hills, Amanda Renner explains they will play “until one player comes out with the lowest score” – which isn’t the case, and wasn’t the case, because Thomas went ahead at the second extra hole but they still had to play the stipulated three.
Now all eight episodes are available to watch and now Koepka has gone to LIV Golf where, per what he said re Phoenix, the galleries are not really big enough to be called crowds. Earlier this month he finished tied 46th at the Saudi International and missed the cut in an Asian Tour event in Oman. From the ridiculous to the sublime…on the back of that last major he won (the 2019 USPGA), he has been invited to have another go at the Masters this spring.
LIV’s 2023 season, by the way, commences in Mexico tomorrow. Given the backdrop to the conclusion to this first series of Full Swing, not least regarding Koepka, a documentary that followed the LIV tour in 2023 might provide comparatively more explosive material. Of course, it may not, but given the rumblings surrounding its court case with the PGA Tour it may be that LIV Golf might not be around to be filmed for much longer.