Editor's Note: Golf Digest is recapping and analyzing every episode of the new Netflix golf series, Full Swing. In addition, Golf Digest editors Shane Ryan, Sam Weinman, and Alex Myers will discuss every episode in a limited-run podcast series, which you can find in our Local Knowledge feed.
Ep. 1: Frenemies | Ep. 2: Win or Go Home | Ep. 3: Money or Legacy | Ep. 4: Imposter Syndrome | Ep. 5: American Dreams | Ep. 6: Don’t Get Bitter, Get Better | Ep. 7: Golf is Hard | Ep. 8: Everything Has Led to This | Bonus: Final Recap & Interview with Chad Mumm, Full Swing Executive Producer
Nothing too complicated here—this is the story of Joel Dahmen, currently the 90th-ranked golfer in the world, and his caddie Geno Bonnalie. It's the first episode where there isn't an explicit contrast between two players; it's just Joel, and he's all they needed.
We start with a just-slightly-abashed Dahmen telling the story of how he came to take his shirt off at the Phoenix Open and whip it around helicopter-style while the rabid hordes went wild and threw beer cans all over the green (one of which he guzzled on the way to 17). That earned him a talking-to from the Tour, which he took in good spirit, and he tells us that maybe one day he'll feel more ashamed ... but that day isn't today.
The thesis statement for the episode hits us next, as Bonnalie describes Dahmen as "your friendly neighbor who's really f***ing good at hitting a golf ball." We follow these two, and Dahmen's wife Lona, through various moments in their lives, and an emerging theme is Dahmen's self-deprecation; when asked if he's ready to win a major, he laughs and says "no. Not even close." We get the contrast between him and players like McIlroy, Rahm, Morikawa, who are dripping with confidence, and while Bonnalie and Max Homa sing Dahmen's praises, he's resolute: He'll never be top 10, he says, because he's just not that good. "Somebody's got to be the 70th-best golfer in the world...it might as well be me."
It's clear Dahmen and Bonnalie have given Netflix huge amounts of access, and we get home visits for both, a taco night hosted by Dahmen, and a trip to a stroller emporium where he and Lona go full prep mode for their soon-to-arrive first child. Meanwhile, Dahmen speaks about the heartbreak of losing his mother to cancer, and his own battle with testicular cancer as a young man.
On the course, we see him flounder and miss the cut at Torrey Pines, then make an astounding second-round comeback at U.S. Open qualifying, fueled by a desperation White Claw. Finally, we come to the U.S. Open itself, where Dahmen achieves his second-ever top 10 at a major. In the end, he concedes that maybe, if he works hard enough and transforms his approach to the sport, there's a chance he belongs with the game's elite.
The Good Stuff
—No, seriously, this is as good as it gets. Dahmen and Bonnalie are instantly and thoroughly compelling, and together they elevate Full Swing to a place it hasn't yet gone, and frankly won't go again. Not only are these guys fully formed human beings with terrific chemistry and great senses of humor, but they're also completely comfortable being themselves on camera. It's quite a weapon, and the filmmakers deploy it to great effect, reaching emotional registers heretofore unexplored. The old "I laughed! I cried!" cliche is true here; I did laugh, and I did cry. And I was sorry when it was over.
—This is really the first time Full Swing has tried to tug the heartstrings, and it worked. The two moments that really got me were Dahmen speaking about his mother and then, surprisingly, reading the letter that Bonnalie sent him "applying" to be his caddie. The former speaks for itself, but the latter was a particularly subtle and perfect way to show the depth and history of the player-caddie relationship, and it will go down as one of my favorite short moments in the entire series.
—Dahmen's perspective on his own cancer also seemed fairly amazing. For someone who lost his mother to contemplate the idea that in his case, the cancer may have been a blessing in disguise for how it sharpened his appreciation for life and his focus on succeeding at golf shows a depth of thought that, sorry, we just don't see from a lot of high-level athletes.
—Man, these guys are funny. A lot of the conversation we've seen on the course, from players to their families, has been awkward to the extreme, but these guys are completely at ease. The sequences at Torrey Pines with Bonnalie mic'ed up are beyond hysterical: "I'm going to f***ing punch you in your ribs," he says, after Dahmen moans that he's going to miss every West Coast cut. In a roundabout attempt at motivation, or just keeping the mood light, he advises Dahmen to fake an injury so they can catch an earlier flight home. And even the small moments, when he says things like, "congratulations on your birdie" with mock formality, are tremendous.
—In general, they can't help being themselves, and people like that produce great TV. We saw it with Koepka in the second episode, and it was entertaining, but in his case "being himself' contains some negative aspects of ego and insecurity. With Dahmen and Bonnalie, it's clear that they care deeply for each other and about golf itself, but moment to moment they can't help but joke around and adopt the underlying perspective that, you know what, things aren't that serious.
—Which brings me to an almost unspoken question looming over the episode, which is this: Let's say Dahmen could turn a metaphorical switch, change his mentality, and become a great player who wins a major or two. Should he? Or should he stick with being a happy guy with a great family and career who makes millions of dollars—more slowly than some, to be sure—playing a sport he loves with his best friend? Brandel Chamblee has a quote in a later episode about the best players not really liking themselves when they're at their best, and I couldn't help but think that if Dahmen ever does try to transform himself in an effort to win more, there's a whole lot he could lose.
—It was enlightening to hear Max Homa say that his nights out with Dahmen end with him yelling at Dahmen about how great he is and how great he could be. If there's a model for how Dahmen could ratchet up his game without losing the intrinsic qualities that make him so appealing, Homa is it, and I'm glad they included him here.
—As you might imagine, there are very few complaints here, but since I'm honor-bound to nitpick, I did think they dwelled too long on the concept of whether Dahmen could transform himself into a killer for the good of his golf game. It was the one part of the narrative that felt shoehorned in, and it seemed like it wasn't that big a part of his story, or his life...but they needed a conflict to overcome. Or at least thought they did. This is a guy who has already won $1.2 million in the 2022-2023 season, and that's from playing in eight tournaments. It is already the sixth straight season he has eclipsed the $1 million mark. It's totally fair to ask if he has the ambition or the ability to reach the next level, but the fixation became a bit too much, and they didn't need it. They even managed to wring a quote from Lona saying that he was going to take every chance in his golf career now that he has a kid coming. Folks, the kid is going to be just fine.
—On the positive side, I was deeply afraid they were going to treat the fact that he didn't actually win the U.S. Open as a downer since he held the 36-hole lead, but I thought they made the perfect choice in skipping Saturday entirely and portraying his top-10 finish Sunday as a really big deal in his career.
—I'm just going to say this now, and revisit it in the recap of the next episode—every time someone gets in a car in this show, the radio is immediately playing some podcast or radio show talking specifically about them. Or, at least, the audio plays over the scene as if it's on the radio. Flag it.
–To go into hyper-nitpicky mode, there is an implication that Dahmen has to shoot a specific score, five under, to make the U.S. Open in his second round of qualifying. In fact, they couldn't have known that beforehand—the line fluctuates—and it's there to make the story easier to tell. [removes pedantry goggles]
Pretty much nothing!
–I'm ashamed to tell you I could not identify the Spanish-language song they played during taco night. It's kind of a jam too, but it must be stock music of some kind.
—Absolutely loved the humility of the woman at Strolleria. She simply would not tout herself as the foremost expert on strollers, not when there are too many big names out there. But hey, to mangle a Dahmen quote, somebody has to be the 70th-ranked stroller expert in the world...why not her?
—Can confirm what Lona said about babies not taking naps when you want to take naps, and what his dad said about life getting so much harder. (But of course, worth it.)
—Also loved how, contrary to the self-conscious family dialogue we've seen on the course thus far, Lona just comes out with, "What a stupid hole!" A lot of players at the U.S. Open agree with you, Lona. Every single year.
—Dahmen's entrance into the media tent after his first round at the U.S. Open was perfect: "Can Joel Dahmen win a major? Blah, blah, blah. Here we go. You said you can't do this. Look at you now." And kudos to Dan Rapaport for the sharp retort: "It's only one round."
–Alex Myers had to point it out to me in our podcast, but there was a funny little moment when Jon Rahm tweaks Rory McIlroy, saying "he doesn't fly private, either," a seeming reference to how he pays extra to be carbon neutral to offset his private flights.
–Speaking of which, forget a major top-10; the biggest triumph for Dahmen was getting to chat for a few moments with the cool kids' table. He's not at the point where he can sit down yet, but they spare him a few words.
—Near as I can tell, the White Claw of choice was mango-flavored, when the best flavor is blackberry.
What more is there to say? This is the kind of great TV we were hoping for when Full Swing was announced, and its appeal will definitely transcend the golf crowd. It's an A+ product, and easily this show's peak.