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
As you can tell from the tagline, this episode is all about the one-on-one match between Fitzpatrick and Johnson to decide the U.S. Open that we all remember so well from last summer, and...
Oh wait, I'm being sarcastic in the "neutral" section again, aren't I? Let's start over:
This is the Matt Fitzpatrick and Dustin Johnson episode, two contrasting figures in the world of professional golf. Fitzpatrick is a simpering beta male stats nerd from hobbit-land who employs his own cobbler to make tiny little shoes for his tiny feet, while Johnson is a swaggering purebred U.S. of A. alpha who stands ten feet tall, has a harem of wives, and eats entire giant-sized Jersey Mike's subs in a single bite. And yet, you will never guess who comes out on top when they meet in a one-on-one match for the U.S. Op—
Son of a...I did it again.
OK, jokes aside, the storyline here is obvious. Matt Fitzpatrick is a successful but also somewhat unappreciated English golfer who is decorated everywhere except the U.S. He's an intensely hard worker and a consummate numbers guy, but who, in his mid-20s, hadn't had a ton of success in the majors and wasn't "elite," at least in the most restrictive definition of that word. We see Fitzpatrick at the PGA Championship, learn that Dan Rapaport stalked him at a college cafeteria until Fitz reluctantly agreed to be his friend (Dan is my friend, and sorry Dan, but I couldn't resist), and then watch him fade on Sunday to finish tied for fifth—his best showing yet at a major, and his first top 10 in six years, but still a disappointment.
Then it's DJ time. Through sit-down interviews and a very awkward dinner, we learn of his intention to go to LIV Golf, and how he thinks anyone who doesn't take the cash is kind of an idiot. We return to Fitzpatrick quickly, who speaks of his disappointment with the PGA finish, taunts his brother, and goes into his use of analytics as we learn more about his background, including his U.S. Amateur win. As his brother puts it, he's constantly hunting for that .01% advantage. Finally, we're off to the U.S. Open, the pairing heard (by no one) 'round the world, and Fitzpatrick's triumph at Brookline.
The Good Stuff
—This was one of two episodes, along with JT/Jordan, that Netflix made available way ahead of time for critics, so I ended up watching this one twice, and I liked the Matt Fitzpatrick storyline more the second time than the first. Why? I have no idea, but it landed. He didn't give them a ton about his home or family life, but his humility and self-deprecating sense of humor was a nice complement to the way he approaches golf itself. Unlike Koepka, he seems to love the sport, and to love taking it seriously, and he very much views it as his life's work. That dedication, which goes beyond "tireless," is nicely depicted by Netflix without overdoing it. If anything, I could have used a deeper dive on the stats, but his shyness in bringing out his box of yardage books and entering data on his spreadsheet ended up being an asset.
—At first glance, I also thought a lot of the scenes with Fitzpatrick around his fellow golfers, or his family, were on the awkward side of the spectrum, but again I came down thinking this was a feature, not a bug. And through it all, his very upper-middle-class British humor came out, as when Pieters asks him if the crew will follow him the rest of his life: "Yeah, I'm going to the bathroom shortly, they're going to come in as well." A moment later, he dings Pieters: "You tend to get more attention when you play well."
—I've joked about the forced contrast between Fitzpatrick and DJ, but there were some illuminating moments. The fact that LIV made some "half-hearted" overtures to Fitzpatrick, seemingly to realize with some speed that it wasn't happening, paints a nice alternative to the DJ worldview, which is that if you're not accepting LIV money, "something's wrong with you." Fitzpatrick isn't one to wax moral or even to lecture anyone—he handles the LIV talk in a very subtle way—but it at least shows that no, not everybody's equation is as simple as "see money, take money."
–Can we just say "everything with DJ" and be done with it? No?
—Frankly, I can't tell if the DJ parts are good filmmaking or bad, because if they wanted to paint him as fundamentally boring and shallow, then it's a job well done. Those of us who have covered Johnson professionally have long been familiar with this version of him—dull interview, not a deep thinker, maybe not super smart—but there are times when you wonder if there's more to him than meets the eye, and once in a while he'll say or do something that seems to indicate we might be underestimating him in some way. But here? Here, we get the negative stereotype blown into ridiculous proportions, as if the editors heard our most ungenerous thoughts and just screamed "enhance! enhance!" until we were left with...this.
—The "rationalizations dinner," as I'm calling it, where the people around him offered these tepid excuses for why it doesn't matter if anyone goes to LIV, was the absolute lowlight of the episode. From the forced guffawing at the meme video to the stilted conversation to Paulina Gretzky's Little Mermaid story that they could only have included to jack up the uncomfortable tension, it was excruciating. In all, they may have had 90 seconds of footage from that table, but it felt like three hours. The one moment of total honesty came afterward, in the sit-down with DJ, when he was asked if people doubted him because of LIV, and he just said, in the familiar voice that can barely be bothered to enunciate, "I don't really care." They could have saved a ton of time just running that clip at the beginning.
—Then, of course, there's the dreaded contrast at the U.S. Open. Yes, DJ and Fitzpatrick are two very different characters, but to portray their two opening rounds at Brookline as some kind of referendum on either one of them, or their approaches to life and golf, was just silly. It's poor storytelling, because something about it rings false, even if yes, they really were paired together, and yes, Fitzpatrick "beat" him. Golf is not a one-on-one sport, no matter how much it would help narratives if it was, and it's especially not a one-on-one sport on Thursdays and Fridays. This was not an actual thing that anyone talked about! We're verging back into invented discourse territory here.
—They forced Matt Fitzpatrick to get braces for the show in order to heighten his boyish image. (Just kidding ... I think.)
—On a serious note, pitting Fitzpatrick against DJ due to their U.S. Open pairing and pushing the message that there was any real kind of rivalry there, or that anybody in the golf world was talking about them in that context on Thursday and Friday, is the worst kind of forced narrative.
—Any time Fitzpatrick gets in a car, there's audio from PGA Tour radio or some other show talking explicitly about him. I mentioned this in the Koepka recap as well, and there are a few options here; either that audio was actually on in the car by random chance (over and over again), they played it for him for the explicit purpose of getting his reaction, or it wasn't playing at all and the editing technique of laying it over the video just lets you think it was by implication. I find scenario one surpassingly unlikely, and I find scenarios two and three kind of weird and off-putting. Too manufactured; if you want someone to react to audio, just play it for him without any of the sleight-of-hand.
–Fitzpatrick's "experience" winning the U.S. Am at Brookline is super overplayed here. It happened almost a decade ago, against a much weaker field, and is one of those stories you only really write if it's early in the week and you're desperate.
—I was absolutely dying when Rapaport teased him about getting drunk at his wedding, and asked if the last time he danced was when he was "grinding" in college. "Not even that," he says, refusing to accept even a faint indication that he might have let himself go. "Not even that!" It's buttoned-up and self-effacing in the funniest way possible.
—Matt Fitzpatrick expresses his interest in watching the F1 race at the PGA Championship, but I can report that in my interview with him last fall, months after this was filmed, he expressed his disappointment with how Lewis Hamilton got screwed at last year's final race, and was so disgusted he no longer watches.
—Could write 10,000 words on Fitzpatrick having a neon "Ice Cream Solves Everything" light on his wall.
—He also owns a real calendar! He may be the only human in America under 30 who still has one. This is truly an old soul.
—Another subtle moment that made me laugh–Fitzpatrick getting lost in a labyrinthine locker room as he tries to find his way out. There's just something so befuddled and tentative about it all...Eddie Pepperell often gets credit as the funniest British golfer, but for physical comedy and self-abasement, Fitzpatrick is a sneaky juggernaut.
—I choose to believe Fitzpatrick is serious when he advises his brother to practice with even-numbered clubs on even dates and odd clubs on odd dates, because it's exactly the kind of insane thing a numbers-obsessed human being like him would do.
—Speaking of contrasts, I enjoyed the "incredibly-on-the-nose" sequence of Koepka shoving a wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth, followed by Fitzpatrick smearing himself with sunscreen. Self-destruction vs. protection. Visual metaphors are my jam!
—On the basketball court, DJ laid some bricks, but I have to admit, his form looked nice. I once saw him dunk in a gym at a tournament, but I didn't expect his stroke to be so pure. He'd have to be my first draft pick in a PGA Tour basketball fantasy league.
—If you were wondering if European golfers still think about Azinger dissing them a couple years ago, just note the way Fitzpatrick says "I've won a few on that tour." Europe remembers.
—I'm here for the Pieters-Daniel Berger feud. Let it bloom.
Again, it might be unfair to criticize Netflix for the DJ stuff, because there is no rule that you can't portray someone in a negative light. And anyway, the Fitzpatrick material was worth the price of admission, and as much as the contrast between the two felt forced most of the time, there were a few illuminating moments. It remains a puzzle how they decided to pair certain guys together for these episodes, but by and large there was more good than bad here. This was no Dahmen episode, but it held its own.