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Full Swing Thoughts

Full Swing Season 2, Episode 1 Recap: Down Goes Rory, Up Goes Brooks

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Ross Kinnaird

March 06, 2024

Editor's Note: Golf Digest is recapping and analyzing every episode of the season of the Netflix golf documentary series "Full Swing." Last season's recaps can be found here.

Compared to the first season of "Full Swing," Netflix's documentary treatment of professional golf, it seems like Season 2 just appeared out of nowhere. Last year, the time between the announcement of the show and the actual premiere felt endless, and we all wondered whether the show would do for golf what the streaming phenomenon "Drive to Survive" did for F1 racing. There were loads of features about the work that went into making it (including ours), endless trailers, and a full hype parade. And it did well! Not quite "Drive to Survive" well, but that's a ridiculous standard, and "Full Swing" is just getting started.

This year, it almost seemed to sneak up on us, which is great; a surprise gift is always better than an anticipated one. So here we are, on the verge of the second season, which now comes with even more LIV drama, a Ryder Cup and full participation from The Most Interesting Man in Golf, Rory McIlroy. You can read our overarching Season 2 review here, but now it's time for the nitty-gritty episode recaps. All eight of them are linked above, and we're going to keep the same style as last time, with an overview, highlights, lowlights, a reality check to see where they adhered to the truth or played a little fast and loose, and a few concluding thoughts.

Enough preamble, let's do this! We begin, of course, with Episode 1 …

The Story

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Netflix

Episode Title: "The Game Has Changed, Part 1"

Tagline: The PGA Tour finds a new rival in LIV Golf as both sides meet at the Masters tournament. Rory McIlroy tries to play his best while taking on a new role.

This is the section for the nuts-and-bolts, no-frills play-by-play of what actually happened in the episode. Any frills are entirely accidental.

We start, as this breed of sports doc always seems to start, with a little meta "we're making a movie here" sequence, with the slate/clapper thing snapping dramatically in front of some famous faces: Rory, DJ, Spieth, Rickie, Joel Dahmen, Fitzpatrick and JT. "Let's do it," Rory says, followed by what I can only call a gleeful giggle, and we are OFF. From the jump, this is clearly going to be in the same mode as last season, where it's about professional golf, sure, but it's also about the titillating prospect of the show itself.

After a short Season 1 recap and a teaser for 2023 that includes both the Ryder Cup ("it's the ***ing best," says Justin Thomas) and the merger ("what the f***?", says Justin Thomas), we're on the range in Arizona. There, Jordan Spieth hits a ball at an occupied port-a-potty, and Rickie Fowler forgoes all subtlety and chucks a ball at the door. "The funniest part is I'm pretty sure he's taking a deuce," says Spieth, with a giggle that puts Rory's to shame. "I mean, he'd be out by now if he was peeing." Hard to argue! Eventually, Adam Hadwin emerges, and confirms that Spieth was correct.

We get a few shots of the wild crowd at Phoenix, but unlike last season, when it seemed like we came back to Phoenix over and over like it was a toxic ex-girlfriend, our stay in the desert is short-lived, and only meant to introduce the PGA Tour gang by montage. Then the talking heads come in to explain that we're in the "product vs. product" era of the PGA Tour vs. LIV, and that the face of the tour is, of course, Rory McIlroy. Collin Morikawa, among others, marvels at McIlroy's energy as he takes on two roles.

Rory, for his part, wants to make the point that the tour is far more successful than LIV at this stage, which the filmmakers emphasize by cutting from rowdy Phoenix to a very quiet LIV event, where the only big noise comes from a collection of fans taunting Brooks Koepka as a money grubber. We get a rundown of all the major players who jumped to LIV, and then the first instance of what will be the dominant narrative of this episode is made explicit: "Everyone" thinks LIV is a glorified lazy exhibition that is going to sabotage all its players. Only the ubiquitous Jena Sims, at first, presents a counter-narrative: She still believes in her man.

We get more and more of the "nobody believes in the LIV guys!" story as we sprint toward Augusta, where the entire drama is framed around the two top dogs: Rory of the PGA Tour, Brooks of LIV. Rory makes the salient point that he didn't ask anybody to become the face of the tour, and that—foreshadowing—that whole thing is starting to take its toll. (Interestingly, he also says he's closer with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan than anyone on tour.) Speaking of foreshadowing, we also get our first look at Monahan giving pre-merger quotes like "our members compete for the opportunity to add their name to history books without having to wrestle with any sort of moral ambiguity."

McIlroy's trouble balancing his spokesman role with his actual job comes into full clarity at Augusta, where his struggles are contrasted with Koepka's rejuvenation. When we last saw Brooks, vis-a-vis "Full Swing," he was a neurotic homebody imprisoned in his Florida mansion reduced to speaking his anxieties out loud to his mother. Now, he can do things like bend over without pain, and Koepka-as-Hamlet has been replaced by Koepka-as-John-Wayne. He walks with swagger, he speaks in clipped sentences and he seems to tower over all his fellow players, both literally and metaphorically.

You know what happens next—Rory misses the cut (he admits he played like "dog****"), a bunch of LIV guys play well, and Koepka almost wins the green jacket. (You have to squint pretty hard to see who actually wins—it's a Spanish player named Jon Rahm.) The big takeaway from the Masters is that the dirty rats from the media were wrong, and that yes, LIV players can still compete in the majors.

McIlroy, despite his failures, is openly relieved Koepka didn't surpass him by winning a fifth major. But uh oh, the PGA Championship comes next as we ambitiously check off two majors in a single ep. After some scenes at the past champions dinner, where Justin Thomas literally toasted Mito Pereira in absentia for gagging away the previous year's title, and where there seems to be a psychological distance between Koepka and his former colleagues, we get to the action. There, Rory finishes top 10 after a rough start, but Koepka breaks through and wins, validating his own comeback and the status of LIV. On his last hole, as the rap music crescendos, we get audio of Nantz referring to how bad Koepka looked on, you guessed it, Season 1 of "Full Swing," and how great he looks now.

In the locker room afterward, Rory tells his manager that he feels good enough to finish in the top 10, but not good enough to win, and he's thinking of a "complete reboot." He's obviously devastated—"****, someone in my era's got more majors than I have"—but he's still big enough to find Koepka in the parking lot to say congrats.

The Good Stuff

—Whatever quibbles we have with the storytelling and narrative obsession of this show, it's still pretty sweet to get a more unpolished look at these guys behind the scenes, and having McIlroy as a full-time speaking subject is worth its weight in gold. What other player would admit that it eats at him that Koepka now has more majors? Who would say he played like "dog****"? The guy is preternaturally honest, and the more time he spends in front of a mic, the more great content you're going to get. Pretty much exclusively because of him, the first episode of this season is miles better than the relative dud that was the Season 1 premiere, where Thomas and Spieth spent 45 minutes looking as stiff as possible leading up the PGA.

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Netflix

—But oh man, speaking of Thomas, the most eye-popping moment of this whole episode came at the PGA Championship dinner, when in a room full of former winners and in front of Netflix cameras, he actually said, "Cheers to Mito Pereira … this would not be happening without him." That's insane! It's a legitimately crazy thing to say, it's pretty mean, but it's also very funny in a sort of sociopathic way. Knowing that this happened, and having footage of it, is why you have to love "Full Swing" even when it frustrates you.

—I thought the use of the talking heads was already way better this season than some of what we saw last season. Amanda Renner was used well to set up Rory's dilemma—"You can't be a golfer and a politician at the same time"—and there was more brutal honesty too; I laughed when Dylan Dethier called McIlroy's missed cut at Augusta a "massive, devastating failure." He's right!

—As someone who watched it play out in the spring, I also think Netflix producers did a nice job getting to the heart of Rory's burnout. He really did stretch himself way too thin. Both overtly, through his quotes, and subtly, through showing the various obligations he has to endure, from public defenses of the tour to content-creation stuff, they illustrated that pretty well.

—I'll have more to say about the actual LIV vs. PGA storyline, but credit to them for bringing in a variety of sources, even if some, like Claude Harmon III, come off to me as weirdly aggressive IRL avatars of the perpetually aggrieved social media "LIV bots" that Rory refers to. That particular viewpoint is very much part of the golf ecosystem now, and it's subtly important to represent it on the show, no matter how any particular individual translates.

—The Netflix folks don't seem to be going easy on the PGA Tour here, and in fact, it looks in the first episode like they're setting up Monahan to look hypocritical when the merger comes. More on this to come, clearly.

The Duds

—What killed me for large chunks of last season was the tendency for "Full Swing" to establish some tenuous storyline, build it up as this unavoidable narrative, and then hit you on the head with it over and over despite the fact that there's not really much evidence. I don't doubt that somebody, somewhere was saying that LIV Golf's lack of a competitive edge would hurt its players, but even those voices were almost unanimously prognosticating on a long timeline. Anyone who thought that the LIV guys couldn't compete in majors during their first full season away from the PGA Tour was, frankly, a moron, and I don't recall hearing much of this at all in the lead-up to the Masters. There were definitely stories afterward about how the results validated LIV, but those were also based on the strawman argument that simply playing in LIV would magically erase all their skill … an argument that, again, I don't recall anyone making!

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Michael Reaves

"They're not going to be good anymore!" was one of the dumbest narratives of early 2023, easily and immediately disproven, and it seems like a mistake for "Full Swing" to make it the centerpiece of this episode. The top half of LIV Golf signees were always among the best players in the world and were never plucky underdogs. Dan Rapaport actually says this at one point, to his credit, but it comes after the narrative is deeply embedded.

—Similarly, while they nailed the fatigue Rory felt as a player and spokesman for the tour side, the episode vastly overinflated Koepka's role on LIV. At one point, they called him the main spokesman for LIV, which is hilarious because he was probably its worst spokesman. He was its best player, no doubt, but even when he won at Oak Hill, he essentially refused to answer a question about LIV. (His exact words were, "I definitely think it helps LIV, but I'm more interested in my own self right now, to be honest with you.") This isn't as egregious an error, but the idea of Koepka as some missionary for LIV is funny to anyone who actually watched him in 2023.

—It's too bad they couldn't get Brooks to open up more, as was the case last season. He was fascinating as a down-at-heel has-been, and I'm sure he would have been equally fascinating as a resurgent world-beater. As it is, the most intriguing potential look into his psyche came when he was asked what mistakes he made in his Masters loss to Rahm … and he wouldn't answer. He's still a main subject, but it seems there was some decision made on his end to be less accessible, and the most we get is banal voiceover platitudes like "it's pretty much all mentality."

—Look, I know Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland weren't signed-on subjects, but the final-round duels at the Masters and the PGA were two of the best moments of the season, and man did they get short shrift here! The Rahm-Koepka Augusta showdown alone is worth an hour-long documentary. I'm shocked they yada-yada’ed the whole thing.

Reality Check

—They play a little bit fast and loose with chronology—there's a scene with Rory at The Puttery in Charlotte that comes at the Wells Fargo in early May, though it's presented as pre-Masters—but that's admittedly pretty nitpicky.

—Rory playing nine holes with Brooks Koepka was a very, very minor story at Augusta, and it felt like they worked some editing magic here to jump from Rory telling that to the press corps to the press corps seemingly grumbling in surprise. If I had my bet, the cut was to the end of the press conference, when the room starts chattering, to make it seem like there was this monumental reaction. I wasn't there, so I can't confirm, but I can confirm that the news of the practice nine was of the "one eyebrow slightly raised for no more than five seconds" variety.

—On that note, the concept that Rory playing nine holes with Brooks was a "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" situation is patently absurd and probably the speculative lowlight of the episode.

Stray Thoughts

—My heart broke slightly early on when there was a clip of Keegan Bradley talking about how much the Ryder Cup meant to him, and doubly so when I remembered that the Netflix crew racing to his house the day of captain's picks fooled him into thinking he was on the team. That's going to be a tough watch later in the season.

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Harry How

—We need to celebrate Adam Hadwin for being a true champ at absorbing humiliation. Here, after being assaulted with golf balls while in the port-a-potty, he comes out in good humor, and even makes a bad pun. Later in the year, as we all remember, he got dump-trucked by a security guard at the RBC Canadian Open while trying to celebrate with his friend, and even then he took it in good spirits. This guy really keeps it in perspective!

—I'd like to issue a PSA to Matt Fitzpatrick to please stop calling it "sun cream." Maybe that's normal in England, but it's wicking me out for reasons I can't quite pinpoint.

—Absolute kudos to the editors for the rainy day scene at the PGA Championship when Rory is overheard saying to Shane Lowry that "it's hard to go out there and shoot 66," followed immediately by a cut to Koepka finishing his round and Jim Nantz saying "another 66!"

—There's one dude in Koepka's entourage who kept making Italian chef fingers at him and then saying things about pasta. I just want to acknowledge this.

—It's hilarious how McIlroy brings up the “good guys vs. villains” storyline in a way that makes you think he's going to point out its flaws, then just follows with, "there's something to that."

—Sorry Joel Dahmen, but your half jump with a little wave did not, in fact, convince me that you're a professional athlete.

—Koepka's goal of getting 10 majors, from the Jake Paul segment, seems kind of nuts on the surface, but the more I think about it, the more it seems like a 30 percent possibility rather than, say, 2 percent.

—I laughed at how they showed shot after shot of police in Phoenix. Those poor people are in over their heads.

—I still remember Rory's exchange with Alan Shipnuck at the PGA, when he said "I don't have a crystal ball" and then pointedly refused to speculate. It was extremely tense, and I'm glad they showed it here.

—Anyone else puzzled by McIlroy saying that Augusta in 2023 was his "best opportunity to win a major in a long time"? I can think of a few chances that seemed slightly better, Rory.

—I know we all ripped on Netflix for it last year, but I was sad that we didn't get an explanation of what "par" means.

—DeAngelo Barksdale voice: “WHERE’S BLOCKIE? WHERE’S BLOCKIE, NETFLIX? WHERE’S BLOCKIE?!?!”

Final Assessment

"Full Swing" remains the same beast, in all important ways. We get excellent access, some really great interactions, insightful quotes from the players and more than a few gossipy gems. But the narrative in this one seemed manufactured, and just as I said a few times last year, I think the source material is good enough that they don't need to manifest a storyline from thin air. It feels dumbed-down in those moments, and it came at the expense of digging deep on those epic Sundays at Augusta and Oak Hill. In that sense, there were missed opportunities here, but all in all it was an entertaining start.

Listen to our 'Full Swing' reaction episode of The Loop podcast here: