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Full Swing Season 2, Episode 5 Recap: Hangin’ with the Fitzpatricks

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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: "In the Shadows"

Tagline: "As his older brother Matt rides the waves of success after winning the U.S. Open, Alex Fitzpatrick looks to blaze his own path to golf glory."

Our favorite self-deprecating Brit is back in Episode 5, and this time Matt Fitzpatrick is bringing his brother along for the ride. Which is not how Alex Fitzpatrick, four years younger than his major-winning sibling, would want me to put it. As he makes clear early and often, it's not easy being the kid brother of a superstar, and as a very good golfer himself, he wants to be out of the shadows as soon as humanly possible. That's the underlying tension between the two, and the theme of the episode: How can Alex become his own man?

We start with the highlight reel of Fitzpatrick's last year, as he lovingly stares at his U.S. Open trophy and draws more attention than he ever thought possible. Enter Alex, currently struggling along on the Challenge Tour in Europe and desperate to make the big leagues. "Definitely jealous," he says of his brother. "When you're constantly in the shadow of someone all your life, it's difficult ... it is a goal to get out of Matt's shadow. Whether or not it's actually doable, I don't know."

In a callback to last season, it's off to the driving range, where Matt watches Alex swing and then gets waylaid by fans seeking his autograph. "Being Matt's brother is great, and it's annoying," says Alex, who as you can tell is not afraid to speak his mind on the subject. "It's a gift and a curse."

We explore this idea from Europe to the U.S., with comparisons flying about. Alex laments the negativity on social media, and Netflix even shows Matt reacting to both Alex's U.S. Am win as kids and his U.S. Open win as adults with faraway looks that make him look, generously, conflicted.

Matt meets with the Sheffield United soccer club, trophy in hand, and fields questions with his trademark awkwardness. (The biggest person to message him when he won? Michael Jordan.) "I feel very lucky where my life is at at the minute," he says, but insists he hasn't changed. Alex disagrees, at least on one point—when he asks Matt to do anything, he'll say he's the U.S. champion and doesn't have to do it. "How many majors have you won?" he'll ask, to which Alex replies, "**** off."

Next, we see Alex with his girlfriend Rachel Kuehn, at the time a Wake Forest golfer and the world amateur No. 4. They relate to each other because Rachel is the daughter of Brenda Kuehn, a former high-level golfer herself who once played the U.S. Women's Open when she was eight months pregnant with Rachel, and knows a thing or two about shadows. (Although it doesn't come close to comparing with a U.S. Open champ like Matt Fitzpatrick, and the mother-daughter relationship is quite a bit different than brother-brother.) The two make a charming pair and laugh as they talk about playing together in a PGA Tour-LPGA combined event. They're self-deprecating enough to see the obstacles—she's not even a pro yet, and he's not on the PGA Tour—and she's comfortable enough to jokingly ask if his brother is available ... which he greets with a laugh that is at least 60 percent pain.

We get a quick glimpse of Matt winning the RBC Heritage over Jordan Spieth, Alex demanding a refund for the airport wifi he had to buy to watch it, the two play the Zurich Classic together—Matt admits he was pressured into taking Alex along—and finish in the top 20, though Alex is upset about his play in the final round. After that, the elder Fitzpatrick misses the cut at the PGA and, melancholy on the rainy drive home ("it's just very s***"), wonders if he'll ever win another major. Meanwhile, in England, Alex qualifies for the Open Championship the hard way, no need for an assist from his brother.

Before Hoylake, though, we learn at a Fitzpatrick family gathering that Matt's fiancee has an iPhone background photo of Matt wearing a fake mustache and braided goatee with a bandanna covering his head. Matt seems more embarrassed by this than you or I might be if we had nude photos leaked to the public and quickly confiscates the phone.

Finally, it's the Open, where Alex stuns ... well, if not the world, then at least many people, when he finishes T-17 and even briefly seems like he might threaten to win the thing on Saturday. Among the players he beats? A fellow named Matt Fitzpatrick. "It's the first day I feel like I've become my own person," Alex says, and at least for the moment, he takes a step out of the shadows.

The Good Stuff

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Chris Graythen

—You know by now that we're always going to have a storyline/narrative in these things, and I've hated on a lot of them (see the Episode 4 recap for my big rant), but I'm not anti-narrative in general! I swear! It just has to be a good, true narrative, and this one seems to hit the mark. Alex Fitzpatrick legitimately is in his brother's shadow, it legitimately sucks, and it's legitimately interesting to see how he (and the people around him) deal with that. That's a good narrative, and my theory is that it's good mostly because it's human. Plot narratives are so often forced in this show, and reality doesn't always conform, which makes the process of trying fit the round peg into a square hole laborious and rough. Here, you just have to highlight a human dynamic, point the camera, and let the story flow. Obviously, it's pretty cool that Alex had his big moment at the Open, but frankly, there wasn't a "bad" ending possible here; even if he struggled, it would have been fascinating. Cheers to good narratives.

—The Fitzpatricks, by all rights, should be boring, but somehow, even in the dullest moments, they always make me laugh. The banter is constant, always witty, and almost always either cutting or self-deprecating. It's my favorite part of the British sense of humor; everything is about knocking someone down a peg, including yourself. Even when Matt is laying out the rules for the Zurich with Alex, and they joke about how Rule 3 is playing well and that Matt will fight his younger brother if he doesn't, he ends by saying, "and I'll probably lose." These people are hilarious, and it's for different reasons than Joel Dahmen or Tom Kim, but I could watch them all day.

—"Full Swing" got a gift in Alex Fitzpatrick being so willing to talk about his own jealousy. It feels like 90 percent of people would either deny it or at least try to downplay it, but he owns his emotions. Because of that, you get the sense that he has a much better chance to cope with it all than most.

The Duds

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Stuart Franklin

—I think if there's a nitpick in an otherwise solid episode, it's that once they established the "in the shadows" narrative, they needed to trust the audience a bit more that, yes, we get it. Eventually, they hit us over the head with the idea a little too often, and by the time they were trying to portray the Open as some kind of brother vs. brother duel, it got a little annoying. Again, there's a reflexive instinct to build up certain stories as if they're the buzzy talk of the golf world. Well, I can tell you as someone who went to Hoylake, nobody but nobody cared about whether Alex beat Matt. Alex's story was great on its own, and by that point in the episode the context was all laid out ... after a while, you've done your narrative work, and you need to chill out and let the audience take the hint.

—I usually keep this to the "Stray Thoughts" section, but I burst out laughing when yet again, the climactic scene was scored to that specific strain of said indie pop that seems to appear in every episode. This time it was "Better Days" by Dermot Kennedy, and I'm not saying the song is bad, but come on guys, find a different mood to end an episode on! The sadsack indie song is this season's "Explain to me what par means."

—I felt it was odd and off-putting how they sort of implied that Alex wasn't happy for Matt when he won his Junior Am or the U.S. Open by catching Alex staring out in a way that made him look conflicted at best and upset at worst. There was nothing there to support that, especially at Brookline where he was cheering as hard as anyone, and I flagged this moment as feeling slightly manipulative.

—Also, come on, top 20 at the Zurich is just fine. We don't need to keep downplaying or waving away certain results because we want them to be the low point before the high point.

Stray Thoughts

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Warren Little

—This is mostly going to be for jokes that made me laugh. First, Alex telling Matt that the attendants mispronounce his last name. "It's your name too, you know."

—Even better, Alex making a crack about his dad in the backseat being deaf, and Russell responding with an absolute classic dad joke: "Wait 'til you're 48, see how you are!"

—By the way, Russell looks so much like an older Matt that it's almost absurd.

—Speaking of jokes, I have nothing to back this up, but I feel like Alex fell even harder for Rachel when she joked about asking his brother to play with her in the combo event. You can tell it stung him, but it was also proof that she can zing him like a true Brit, right in the ego.

—On that note, Rachel also scored big with "you picked the wrong sport" right after his tough Zurich round.

—Both Fitzpatricks are currently in relationships with Americans, but I absolutely think they're going to turn the women British before they ever get turned American. It's not even a fair fight.

—I cracked up when a fan asked Alex for his hat, but called him "Matt," and he muttered, "He would've had my hat if he'd called me Alex."

—Name me another player on the PGA Tour besides Matt Fitzpatrick who would say the words "oh, fiddlesticks" without a hint of irony. Name ONE. You simply can't do it.

—I cannot imagine how toxic social media is for an athlete when they have an actual brother who is better than them at the same sport. It's like a giant, ready-made target for the worst trolls in the world.

—I hope the USGA fines Matt Fitzpatrick for not keeping their trophy polished.

—Seriously though, I'm curious ... what if he just stashed it and told them he lost it. What would anyone do?

—Good job by Geno Bonnalie signing a kid's face.

—We had an unbelievably quintessential "Full Swing" moment when they showed a clip of Alex missing a putt at the Zurich, the announcer said, "it's getting a little ugly out there," and the score graphic at the bottom simultaneously changed from -3 to -5. That's a Hall-of-Fame narrative moment for sure.

—I've joked often in these recaps about how much "Full Swing" loves itself, and for an episode that was somewhat less self-referential than the others, you knew they had to end with a pack of fans shouting "Full Swing!" gleefully at the camera.

Final Assessment

Pretty good! The Fitzpatrick family is surprisingly delightful company for 45 minutes, and even though Netflix did hit us over the head with the narrative to a certain extent, the narrative itself wasn't forced, so it was fun and insightful to watch. I would watch a whole reality show with the Fitzpatricks, and all I ask is that there's at least one crossover episode with Tom Kim.

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