Full Swing Thoughts

Full Swing Season 1 Episode 6 Recap: Tony Finau, Collin Morikawa, and the Dreaded Contrast

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February 15, 2023

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.

The Story

Episode Title: "Don't Get Bitter, Get Better"

Tagline: Tony Finau and Collin Morikawa take different approaches to the game heading into The Masters Tournament and the Open Championship

Pick your favorite narrative here:

Choice A: Tony Finau is a good-hearted family man from humble origins who never gives up despite initial struggles, while Collin Morikawa is by turns robotic and persnickety, a machine designed to achieve golf success on the course, and who spends his free time harassing the people who design his clothes.

Choice B: Tony Finau gave Netflix unlimited access to his life, while Collin Morikawa did not, and they both reaped what they sowed.

I don't mean to be glib when presenting these options, or not entirely so. It's just that we are dealing with what might be the most controversial episode of the series, at least before the Rory finale, and the "controversy" will come in the depiction of Morikawa, and to what extent it was fair or deserved.

Right from the top, Tony Finau is portrayed as America's boy, a fan favorite and a gentle soul, and a tremendous talent who doesn't win as much as he should, perhaps because he has too many "distractions." We meet those distractions early—he calls them "his wife and children"—and he's cooking what I think is french toast for his clan. His background, of Tongan and Samoan descent, takes center stage, and scenes of playing ping pong with his family lead into the reason they're with him: His wife's father passed away recently, and they simply want to be together. This theme will persist throughout the episode; Finau juggling golf and family, and struggling to perform at his best as he pulls off this balancing act.

Finau grew up in a rough Salt Lake City neighborhood, and we visit his childhood home, garage door dented in tiny golf ball shapes from when he used to pound them into the door from inside. (Supposedly there was a mattress inside, but the dents seem to indicate that it may have been a later invention.)

We're introduced to Morikawa with a shot of his dog wearing tiny shoes on a private jet, and this is a pretty good metaphor for the depiction to come. He's ravenous for more majors, young as he is, and his first reaction at deplaning in Augusta is, "ahhh, pollen." Next, he's in the locker room complaining about the thumb gap in his glove, and if that sounds picky, wait until you see him reject an orange-and-olive-green color combo presented by his clothing people. (Note: he's probably right.)

Point made, it's back to Finau, who is working with his son on the putting green, and then being resilient at the Open to make the cut while the talking heads openly speculate that Morikawa might be done when he fails to reach the weekend. When we're back in the States, Tony opens up about his own mother's tragic death in a car crash and weeps when discussing it at an outdoor ceremony. This is the pay-off: He's traveling with his wife in the aftermath of her dad's death because he knows exactly what she's going through.

Then, when his game seems lowest, he goes back-to-back with Tour wins at the Rocket Mortgage Classic and the 3M Open, and has a massive welcoming committee waiting for him at the airport when he gets back to Utah.

At this point, I'd let you know how the Morikawa storyline ends, but...it doesn't. After we see him extol the virtues of selfishness and complain about clothes and miss a cut at a major, that's it!

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The Good Stuff

—Everything about Finau is really well done, and speaking only for myself, the stuff about his mother, and his wife's dad, hit me in the gut. I found myself getting teary-eyed every time Finau did during this episode, which was a lot. (In particular, the footage of his mom just killed me.) When I interviewed him about the experience of having Netflix following him around, long before I had seen any episodes, he talked about granting them full access to tell the story of his upbringing and his family in a way that people just had not seen before. As far as that goes, mission accomplished—this was a great profile of what seems like a genuinely nice guy. I'm not going to write much more in this section, but that's because Finau's trajectory was most of the episode, and that made most of the episode enjoyable. In short, he took the chance that he could be open with the cameras and yield the benefits, and it worked.

—Even though I'll get into why I thought the whole "oh no! he's traveling with his family!" plot point was vastly overdone, I will give credit to the editors for the way they weaved the story of Finau's empathy for his wife through the circumstance of their parents' death. I think it's absolute nonsense that anyone cared about him traveling with his family or gave him any grief for it, but by itself, his decision to bring his wife and kids with him so they could be close together for the painful first year was really, really touching.

—The dented garage door was one of the best visuals of the entire series so far. It tells such a terrific story, and it's just a bunch of bumps in a wall. Kudos to whoever tracked that down.

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Netflix

The Duds

—There's no other way to put this: Collin Morikawa is made to look selfish and cold in this episode. If there are people who disagree with that, I'd love to hear from them, because I've watched this episode twice and can't see any other way to read it. He gets a lot less screen time than Finau, and when we see him, he comes off either entitled or machine-like in his approach to golf. I don't know Morikawa well enough to know if this is "true" or not, but the lack of nuance in this episode leads me to believe they are presenting a very, very limited story. Where did he come from? What are his values? What did his parents do? These stories aren't told, and that may have been Morikawa's prerogative—each player got to dictate the access he gave to Netflix. But if you didn't get much from him, and he didn't accomplish anything of note during the year, why show him at all? To include him here, and to contrast him with the incredibly favorable depiction of Finau, paints a rough picture of a young two-time major winner. And again, I'm not even saying it's wrong! I have no idea! But I do know it's flat and two-dimensional, and makes for a really weird inclusion in an episode that is otherwise a heartfelt study of one of the game's unique players.

—The lesson here for the players: If you're going to sign on with Netflix, you should sign on all the way. Think of the people who got the most sympathetic depictions: Finau, Dahmen, Poulter, Rory. Of those, only Rory seems to have set any limits. The rest invited the crews into their homes, were seemingly available at any time, and embraced the situation. If I were an agent, my message to a player would be, "if you're going to do this halfway, don't do it at all."

—The actual reason Finau and Morikawa are paired together is because they are both men of color on a largely white professional tour who were inspired by Tiger Woods, but again, there's got to be room to audible to a different structure when it doesn't come together.

Reality Check

—On a completely different note, the Invented Discourse was so annoyingly strong in this episode. We heard over and over again from the talking heads how people were questioning Tony Finau's choice to bring his family with him on the road, as if it were something he had to justify, and as someone who covered golf pretty extensively last year, let me tell you: I never heard this once. I didn't even know he was traveling with his family! This was not a story!

—When Sean Foley said "if Tony's not getting it done, it's Tony not getting it done. It's not his situation," I just closed my eyes and imagined he was yelling this at Netflix.

—Also, one thing they conveniently leave out in an attempt to make Tony Finau look like someone who couldn't win is that he won an enormous playoff event over Jon Rahm and Cameron Smith at the end of 2021 in New Jersey. I'm not saying he hasn't struggled to win, but I am saying that the discourse they push in this episode was way more prominent three years ago than it ever was in 2022, even before he won his back-to-back events.

—Any even remote implication that Morikawa is washed is obviously ridiculous. I don't think they went full-throttle in this direction, but there were a couple of "we're just asking questions!" moments, and they made a lot of his missed cut at the Open for a guy who notched two top-fives at majors last year.

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Netflix

Stray Thoughts

—Jraice Finau is my favorite secondary character in the whole series. I like his vibe, the cut of his jib, everything. I hope I live long enough to see him on Tour.

—Speaking of which, at the end of this episode, when Jraice got called out by his siblings for talking shit about his dad, tried to deny it, then owned it by saying, "bruh...I would've made that putt eight times out of ten"...I died. Couldn't have been more perfect.

—Earlier, we saw Lona Dahmen call a hole at the U.S. Open "stupid," but Kelepi Finau, Tony's dad, takes it a step further when he remembers what he thought of golf originally: "this has got to be the dumbest game ever." By episode eight, Rory's aunt is going to pour gasoline all over the 16th green at Augusta.

—I have to imagine that it sucks to blow a PGA Tour tournament no matter what, but to blow it when Netflix cameras happen to be there to memorialize it forever? That's what we in the business call a bummer. Sorry, Scott Piercy.

—Last episode, we saw Dustin Johnson shooting some bricks. Now, it's Morikawa, who went further and managed to set off a car alarm with a missed shot. That would be my second piece of advice to players if I were an agent: if you see a camera around, don't touch a basketball.

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Tiger Woods walks down hole No. 3 with Francesco Molinari and Tony Finau during the final round of the 2019 Masters.

Augusta National

—Finau's stories at Augusta, from parking in the champions lot to how players wait for a specific number to correspond to when they've won before to Tiger making it very clear that he didn't want to talk to him during their final round, were great. I didn't expect Finau to be such a good storyteller.

—Part of what made the parts with Finau's mom so affecting was how much they look alike. That hit me in the gut.

—Love the term "anxi-shakes" Morikawa deployed.

—It's pretty interesting to me that there was almost nothing about Finau being a Mormon, beyond a few references to his faith. It's always seemed like a massive part of his story, but they obviously made a conscious choice to avoid it here.

—There are a good number of cliches in this series, including the title of this episode, but if you're going to deploy one, you might as well use the one Finau chose which so perfectly summarizes his career: "A loser is just a winner who never gave up."

Final Assessment

This should have been the Tony Finau episode, and it would have been an A- effort at worst. Everything with him and his family and his backstory and his victories was terrific. The Morikawa material seemed out of place, potentially unfair, and awkward at best. If I were him, I wouldn't be overly pleased with the depiction.