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Full Swing Thoughts

Full Swing Season 2, Episode 2 Recap: Rickie Fowler and the Merger

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Ross Kinnaird

March 06, 2024

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

The Story

Episode Title: "The Game Has Changed, Part 2"

Tagline: A mind-blowing merger shocks the golf world. At the U.S. Open, Dustin Johnson reunites with PGA Tour players and Rickie Fowler attempts a comeback.

Ladies and gentlemen, THE MERGER.

In classic "Full Swing" style, we begin with a montage of talking heads from the media all doing their version of "THINGS WILL NEVER BE THE SAME." This, of course, is hot on the heels of the June 6 news of the framework agreement between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf's financial backer, the Public Investment Fund, and we segue from the talking heads to players like Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa and anyone who ever tweeted about it doing their version of "what the f***?" (Literally, they all say "what the f***?") Even as Jay Monahan and Yasir Al-Rumayyan appear together on CNBC, it's clear that nobody seems to know anything concrete, and obviously we have the benefit of nine months of hindsight which has taught us to eliminate the word "seems"—nobody actually knew anything about the future, including the people that signed the deal.

Next, we get a scene from the PGA Tour's inner sanctum in Ponte Vedra Beach, where Monahan says he's "inspired and highly motivated," after which EVP of communications Laura Neal, wearing the expression of a person who knows she is going to get roughly 2.3 hours of sleep in the next six months or so, tentatively asks him what on earth he's going to tell the players, to which Monahan responds—I'm paraphrasing—with "I'm screwed."

All of which leads to the players' meeting, which we don't get to see beyond a closed door, and which we don't hear much about afterward. Rory McIlroy is the primary voice here, and after insisting that he knew almost nothing about the plans, he gives us his thesis statement: "I'm almost at the point where I'm like, f***ing do whatever you want to do." But it's also clear that despite his quote about feeling like a sacrificial lamb—he's right—he doesn't mind the potential outcome of the game's best players reuniting, and there's also a palpable relief that he doesn't have to be the PGA Tour's spokesman anymore.

Up next, the U.S. Open! The first time the disparate bands will be in the same place at the same time since the framework agreement was announced. Before that, though, we get a glimpse of Dustin Johnson and Paulina Gretzky, which is exactly as interesting as their appearances last season. There's a yacht, some rap music and a whole lot of excruciating "conversation." The big takeaway here is that DJ doesn't care about anything, but also gets led into saying that the PGA Tour players shouldn't be compensated if the two sides reunite, a position that feels both impromptu and threadbare, belied by the smile on his face that communicates the real, familiar message: "I don't care." Shots of him and his brother on the range ensue, and Claude Harmon III says that "there is an argument to be made" that some of the LIV players could be seen as pioneers.

Mercifully, the golf intervenes, where DJ has a phenomenal opening round at L.A. Country Club before fading. Then we make the shift to Rickie Fowler and his wife Allison, a former world-class athlete herself, who Rickie tells us is better looking, smarter, and overall just better than him. Compared to … others … the two of them come off as eminently human, even when they rerun the old "Golf Boys" videos. Rickie talks about how he's learned to open up to his wife more during the hard times, especially his long drought that led him back to Butch Harmon. Speaking of Butch, he's on hand to reinvigorate Fowler, pump him up with self-belief, and set him loose on the golf world in which he's been a minor player for too long.

At L.A. Country Club, after DJ's fade, Rickie is on the ascent, and almost takes a lead into the final round before a par putt in the dark lips out on 18—a harbinger of things to come. He can't quite close the deal on Sunday, and it's Wyndham Clark who surges to his first major title—with nary a mention, until afterward, of the other guy who was very much in contention that day … a fellow by the name of Rory McIlroy.

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Ezra Shaw

Fowler and McIlroy console each other afterward, and then, two weeks later, Rickie breaks through for his first win in four years. His wife and daughter are there to greet him, and he chokes up in his post-round remarks when thinking about how they were there for him through his long sojourn in the golf desert.

The Good Stuff

—Even though we covered two majors in Episode 1, the actual drama was very, very thin, and the U.S. Open at LACC was the first time we've really delved into the competitive drama. And it was great! It was a major relief from everything else, especially the LIV/PGA Tour/merger stuff that at this point feels both outdated and paper thin. I'm sure that part of the "Full Swing" mission statement is that they can't just recap tournaments, but I'll tell you, for me it was by far the best part of this episode, and that's coming from someone who spent four days in front of the TV last summer watching every second of the coverage. I'm not saying that 45 minutes of golf would make for a good documentary, but you need it as the backbone to every episode.

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Luke Walker

—What I loved about the Rickie/Allison scenes is that they made an attempt to get into the psychology of them as people. Seeing Rickie admit that he's not good at expressing his feelings, and how that clashes with Allison's tendency to spill her guts even to a stranger on a plane, was an interesting look into their dynamic, and into how they behave as people. It's the kind of thing you'd never know if your full knowledge of Rickie was watching him play golf, and it illuminates his character. This is the kind of thing, in my mind, that they should be striving for constantly with every single subject.

—The scenes between Rory and Rickie, both before and after the final round at LACC, were phenomenal, and they weren't even that long. Just hearing two guys complain about the darkness, and then commiserate after they both failed to do the thing they desperately want to do, is so rich even in small doses. Again, that's the purpose of this show, and they nailed it in those moments.

—Butch Harmon was really effective as an honest voice, and it's nice to have someone who isn't afraid to just speak his mind, even about his own player. His observation that Rickie was anxious from the very first tee on Sunday at the U.S. Open was great, and his matter-of-fact statement that yes, Rickie needs a major to validate his career.

The Duds

—I found it very interesting that through two episodes with a ton of LIV content, they keep going back to the fact that some people consider the LIV players to be villains for jumping to the other tour, but—here's the crazy thing—they never say why! Last season, at least in my memory, they seemed to cover the human-rights violations pretty thoroughly, and maybe they're just taking it as a given that people know by now, but it's still wild to see absolutely no context given. You hear from people like DJ and Brooks and others that they've been ostracized and criticized for joining LIV, but if you didn't do your homework, you would have no concept about what people found so objectionable. Regardless of what you believe about the Saudis and the PIF, isn't it kind of incumbent on a documentary to present that side of things?

—Through no fault of the "Full Swing" creators, the nature of having to release the entire series in February of the following year means that certain events, like the June 6 framework agreement, are now so far in the rearview that it's obviously not breaking news; so much has happened since. But in order to create compelling TV, they have to offer something new, something behind the scenes, and there was almost nothing here. The scene in Ponte Vedra Beach came closest, but even that felt heavily staged and mired in corporate speak. Where was the juicy stuff on Rory and Grayson's fight? Where's the inside info from the player board? What about the negotiations? They're offering nothing new here … if it was a magazine story, you'd close it thinking, why did I read that?

—In general, as you can tell from the two critiques above, it feels like "Full Swing" is being way too polite here, and not just to LIV. They're being too polite to Rory (did he actually know nothing about these negotiations, when some of the negotiators were close friends?), too polite to the tour, and broadly just wearing kid gloves on anything even vaguely political in nature.

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Michael Reaves

—DJ and Paulina have a certain intrigue to them as good-looking, famous, talented people, but at the risk of sounding mean, that intrigue is felt most strongly at a distance. The long scenes of their lives add very little to a documentary like this, and I thought the parts where she followed him around the course as he came back to earth in the second round at LACC felt very staged and cringe-y and were ultimately not even necessary. I feel like even if you have a subject with a big name, you have to follow what’s actually interesting.

—It was wild how little they showed Rory during the final round at LACC. He had a better chance to win than Rickie! It was his most realistic chance of the entire year!

—Like episode one, they remain fixated on how each result at each tournament will affect the general fortunes of LIV and the PGA Tour, which gets worse every time because as we've learned, it makes almost no difference. The money matters, the ratings might matter, and the negotiations matter...the guy who wins any given major is irrelevant to anything but a false narrative.

Stray Thoughts

—It always makes me laugh when "Full Swing" does a montage of tweets, because it starts off with people you know, and then quickly just scrapes the bottom of the barrel for complete strangers tweeting their opinions. I love to go from Ben An and Mackenzie Hughes to MadGolfBoy420 without blinking.

—I need more JJ Jakovac. I loved his "has this ever happened in the history of sports?" cameo.

—I've never seen the inside of PGA Tour headquarters, but it simultaneously looks pretty cool and also dystopian, as though it's legitimately state-of-the-art but also the kind of building where Darth Vader's great-great-grandson will plot the destruction of the universe.

—This is a concept that has been bubbling in my head for a while, but crystallized with this episode after seeing the contrast between Rory, in his interactions with everyone from Rickie to DJ, to someone like Paulina Gretzky, or—since I've probably picked on them a little too much—almost anyone else. When you know a little how the sausage is made with this documentary in particular and most others of its kind, you learn a lot of the scenes they get are at least partly staged, either in the sense of asking people to speak on a certain subject, or prodding them to have a conversation with a third party on some topic. It's not unheard of for them to have to reshoot certain scenes, or to ask for re-reads of certain lines. In those settings, it can feel very unnatural for people who aren't actors by trade to pull it off—they're asking you to simulate real life in a very unreal setting. So for someone like Paulina to come off a little stilted isn't bad, it's just extremely normal. You or I would be the same. But the reason I'm bringing this up now is that Rory comes off as unbelievably naturalistic, and he does it every. single. time. He's been an extremely likable person in the golf world for more than a decade now, and it took "Full Swing" for me to realize that part of his charisma is that he's a very good actor. It's kind of amazing … I'm at the point where I believe if he had never touched a golf club as a kid, he'd be Cillian Murphy by now.

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Ben Jared

—I want more Laura Neal as well; there is nobody more interesting to me than a comms person in the midst of a crisis. It's what made "Veep" such a great comedy, and as someone who has had enough interaction with Neal (above) to know how competent she is, I would gladly contribute to a Kickstarter for eight episodes of a "Full Swing: PGA Tour Comms" season.

—Really wish Wesley Bryan had kept that livestream going.

—I've come to realize that "Full Swing" has two musical gears: very good rap music (loved the Rae Sremmurd track this time) and the most sadsack indie songs imaginable.

—DJ is the one person who could say that the PGA Tour players shouldn't get any compensation and not get absolutely roasted by his fellow pros.

—Matt Fitzpatrick only appears for about 30 seconds in each episode, but he's hilarious every single time. In this ep, he's relieved that a Fitzpatrick bobblehead doesn't have braces. I hope he just keeps dipping in here and there for a bit of neurotic British self-deprecation all season.

—Tom Kim calling out the tour guy about not knowing the merger details was great. "Oh yeah, we all believe you." It's even funnier because it's almost certain the tour guy had no idea and was telling the truth. Again, we need a series on the comms people!

—Respect to Keegan Bradley for going to a fancy dinner before the U.S. Open and wearing the rattiest possible Red Sox hat.

—You feel bad for Rickie at several moments, but never more so than halfway through his Sunday U.S. Open round when he says, "It's time to step on the gas" just before making another bogey.

—I thought I might never have to hear the words "marine layer" ever again. Very upset.

Final Assessment

As always, "Full Swing" is at its strongest when it goes deep on its most interesting subjects and the actual competitive golf. The parts focused on the merger fell flat because they didn't seem to have the goods to show us anything new, nor the will to go hard after just about anyone.

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