Full Swing Thoughts

Full Swing Season 2, Episode 6 Recap: Ryder Cup drama!

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Netflix

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: "Pick Six"

Tagline: U.S. captain Zach Johnson makes his selections for the Ryder Cup team, while Justin Thomas worries he may not make it to Rome after a tumultuous year

Folks, it is RYDER CUP TIME, and if you're an obsessive like me, you've been waiting for this all season. My impression was that only the last two eps were on the Ryder Cup, but I was dead wrong, because here we have an entire episode just on Zach Johnson's selection process, with a hyper-focus on the paths taken by Justin Thomas and Keegan Bradley. If that seems like a bit of a narrow scope for 45 minutes of TV, worry not—I'm supposed to be neutral in this section, but I can't because this is a masterpiece of human drama. Is that embarrassingly hyperbolic? MAYBE. Is it wildly subjective, since I'm a Ryder Cup sicko? ALSO MAYBE. But come along with me on a ride that I found completely spellbinding from moment one.

We begin with JT, who is fielding questions from the media at the Open Championship in July about whether he'll make the Ryder Cup in September despite the fact that he is stinking it up every time he sets foot on the course. In JT's favor is his ridiculous record in the Ryder Cup, in team match-play events generally and his popularity with the other players. Against him is the fact that he keeps shooting 80s. He admits he's concerned, but is never shy about how badly he wants to make the team.

We get the talking heads/highlights montage about how cool the Ryder Cup is, what a hard job Johnson has with his six captain's picks, and how Brooks Koepka's major win means that LIV will have at least one representative. "Drama can ensue,” cap’n Zach says, in a massive understatement.

In Jupiter, Fla., JT's dog tries to eviscerate a boom mic, JT relates how some ducks started "shitting in his pool," forcing his wife to buy a fake owl and alligator, and then it's down to business. When asked to describe his season in one word, he struggles to find something eloquent, but reverts to how his pool looked after the duck visit: "Shitty."

From there, the episode plays chronologically, and Phoenix is first, with about 200 days until Rome. JT's agent, Lance Young, tries to convince him to take a trip with him to Rome sometime during the year, and as politely as possible JT tells him to stop jinxing him. He wants this really badly—"it's the ****ing best," he says of the Ryder Cup—and we see another montage of his frankly ridiculous history in the event.

In Phoenix, it turns out that JT and Zach are staying together, and JT hits us with the quote of the episode in front of the captain: "I'm in a very sticky situation, because I don't want to kiss his ass too much, but I do want to kiss his ass." At which point ZJ says he doesn't like lobbying, but he does like free houses and food (which he's apparently getting from JT that week), and JT follows with, "it's going to be an expensive year."

It's a joke, kinda, but it’s also a major theme of the episode. The fact is, Thomas is good friends with Johnson, and he's obviously turning on the charisma in a huge way in 2023 because he can sense he's going to need every ounce of juice from that relationship to get a pick. That is a major contrast with Keegan Bradley, who puts his own position succinctly: "I feel a little bit like I'm on the outside looking in … I feel a lot like I am." He's older, he's from the northeast, he didn't go to a major golf school, and he's quite simply pretty far outside the clique.

Bradley loves the Ryder Cup like no other human alive, JT included, but his memories are mixed, to say the least. He had his brilliant stretch with Phil Mickelson at Medinah in 2012, but he lost on Sunday in the epic European comeback (he still hasn't unpacked his bag from that year because, per his wife, the memories would be too painful). Then in 2014, his only other Ryder Cup, Jamie Donaldson beat him in singles for the winning point, forcing him to watch everyone celebrate. He's a family man, so he has a lot going on, but it's also clear that the joy and pain of the Ryder Cup is pretty much always on his mind.

From here, there's an abundance of rich material, but it follows a pretty simple pattern—JT keeps struggling, but he's also constantly ingratiating himself with Johnson. Bradley plays good, at least at times, and peaks when he wins the Travelers Championship in June, at which point he commits the ultimate self-jinx when he whispers to his wife asking if she would like to go to Rome. His chances look decent when Thomas blows up at the U.S. Open and at Hoylake, but Bradley can't put the exclamation point on his season either; he misses the cut at the Open and has average performances at all three playoff events. Meanwhile, Thomas misses the playoffs, but he plays great at the Wyndham and almost makes a ridiculous pitch on the 18th hole to make the top 70 and get in the playoffs.

That leaves everything up in the air, but as Johnson gets ready to make his decision, the cruel, cruel people behind "Full Swing" make the decision to leave us on a cliffhanger … which infuriates me to no end, until I remember that this is Netflix and I can just click the next episode button.

The Good Stuff

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Keegan Bradley celebrates after winning on the 18th green during the final round of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands.

Patrick Smith

—There is so much here, but the top of my list is the profile of JT as a diplomatic genius. This guy is the Otto Von Bismarck of professional golf, and I do not say that lightly. It's incredible how he balances the fact that he very much does want to exert any and all influence he has with Johnson with the fact that everybody, Johnson included, will be expecting him to exert that influence, and guarding themselves against the possibility of bias. How does he handle it? By joking about it while he's doing it! I cannot explain how brilliant this is and how, when you think back on it, it's almost the only way he could thread that needle. In Phoenix, when he jokes that he wants to kiss ZJ's ass without seeming like he's kissing his ass, he's telling the truth, and he's telling it in front of the man himself! But by laughing about it, he lets Johnson laugh about it, and in the meantime, he's still accomplishing what he wants to accomplish. The same thing happens later in the year, again while he's staying in a house with Johnson, when he says, totally straight-faced, "I was watching you on the range yesterday, I thought your swing looked so good." Everybody knows what he's doing, and everybody laughs—it's the fake butter-up, making light of a tense situation. But you can't ignore that while these kinds of jokes are happening, he's building an even tighter bond with Johnson, he's using his own influence to keep him within the "in group" of the other young guys like Spieth and Fowler, and he's exerting every bit of social influence he has...a social influence that, to me, is considerable.

Now, let me put this into context. I wrote at the time that I thought Thomas was the right pick for the team, and I still believe that, despite the nightmare that played out for the Americans in Rome. I think even in a vacuum, Johnson was very justified in picking Thomas over Bradley or anyone else. His history, and his bond with the team, really mattered. But having watched this episode, I now believe it was almost impossible for Johnson to say no, and I'm a little bit in awe of JT in a way I never was before. There's a Machiavellian undercurrent to how he set himself up for a pick, should he need it; his charisma, his personality, and his understanding of other people was the ultimate insurance policy, and he wasn't going to let himself fail. Bradley never had a chance.

—This is a classic example of how "Full Swing" can thrive when they don't have to force a certain storyline. The drama of who gets a captain's pick is good every single time the Ryder Cup rolls around, and when they have a pre-built narrative that isn't being forced on the players, the show succeeds almost effortlessly. When they don't, and they feel the need to impose some dramatic structure that isn't actually true, we get tortured, convoluted episodes. This is an example of the former, and man, was it good. The contrast of Bradley and Thomas was perfect, the way they threaded the story across the year couldn't have been better, and within the broader question of how the result would play out, they highlighted the humanity of all three main subjects. I can't gush about this enough; from a story perspective, it's the best thing they've ever done by a mile, and from a character perspective, it's right up there (for different reasons) with the Dahmen/Bonnalie gems of the last two seasons.

—Bradley has always been a very strange guy from my perspective, and there are elements of him that are still tough to pin down even after this episode, but I thought the filmmakers did an unbelievable job of capturing both his intensity and the interesting combination of pain and loneliness that follow him despite a successful career that includes multiple wins and a major championship. Knowing what happens in the end, you're gutted for him over and over. Especially when he whispers to his wife that they might be going to Rome ... that is almost too painful to have been real.

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Keegan Bradley and Justin Thomas share a laugh at the 18th green during round three of the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play in 2019

Tracy Wilcox

—I have a feeling Netflix might have nudged JT to stick around to congratulate Bradley after his win at the Travelers, since as far as I know the two aren't particularly close and I don't think that moment would have played out organically. Still, I'm kind of OK with it here, because I felt a bone-deep shudder watching it, and the note I wrote down was, "Iago hugging Othello." As in, here's one guy experiencing total triumph, but here's the other guy giving him a big embrace while knowing that he's going to influence things in his direction in a way that will (inadvertently but acutely) break the other guy's heart.

—Let me be extremely clear that I'm not accusing JT of being scheming or malicious in any way. I actually respected the way he went about things, and the only point I want to make is that he used a skill set that Bradley simply doesn't have to help achieve an outcome. I thought the whole thing was fair play, even if it was dramatically fascinating.

—Here's a big point I want to make: I'm not sure anyone but "Full Swing" could have gotten this story, at least to this extent. With the state of player access today, and how closed off everything is with the Ryder Cup in particular, I don't think another media entity or personality could have portrayed how Thomas made use of his relationship with Johnson. Some of us knew the broad details, sure, but with nothing like this level of specificity. This is a prime example of Netflix maximizing its access to tell a great story that only they could tell.

The Duds

I got nothing here. Even the way they explained the Ryder Cup points system was succinct and understandable, with some great graphics. My precious documentary has come so far from the days when they spent five minutes every episode explaining par.

Stray Thoughts

—What torture for Bradley the whole Ryder Cup is! "It's like a drug," he says at one point, "You want to get back and you want to feel it again." Here's a man who experienced some outrageous highs for the first two days of his Ryder Cup career, and everything after that has been either competitive disappointment—the lost singles matches—or the frustration of not being allowed back. And he knows he's getting old, too; Rome may have been his last shot.

—I'm gratified and not at all surprised that JT is a "Sopranos" guy.

—I'm astounded at how little Zach's children know about golf. This was the funniest part of the entire episode. Here's a two-time major winner, and I'm pretty sure if you pulled two American kids off the street, they'd have a chance to know more than his kids do about the sport. His son saying, "I'm pretty sure he won the British" while fiddling with a Rubik's Cube is beyond hysterical, and it got better a moment later when he asked, "Dad's not competing by himself, right?" in reference to the Ryder Cup.

—A very underrated kid moment came when Bradley's son said he liked the Buffalo Bills, and far from laughing, Bradley reacted like he'd just told him that he'd joined the 4Chan message boards. You simply don't joke about liking the Bills in the Bradley household, and you get the sense that if this continues, that kid will be going to live with an uncle.

—There's something irresistible, in a very stupid way, about calling someone named Zach "Zatch," and I nodded my head in solidarity when JT used it on Johnson.

—We finally had a shot this season that I've missed with all my heart from Season 1—a player gets in a car, turns on the audio, and there's immediately some commentator talking about him. This editing always makes me laugh, and while it took six eps to get here, we got it at last with Keegan.

—At one point Bradley said, "a whole generation of guys I came out with are gone," and he sounded like an old man attending his 60th college reunion.

—I don't think I've noticed this before, but Bradley has an interesting way of talking. It's soft, but simultaneously intent, almost like he's doing an audiobook of Buddhist mantras.

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Rob Carr

—Bradley's joy at winning the Travelers was goosebump-inducing...I think part of his whole personality is that when he's extremely happy, he can't hide it, and it was like watching a kid open up his favorite Christmas gift. Just totally unfiltered happiness.

—ZJ describing Bradley as "extremely motivated" at Ryder Cups was my favorite understatement of the episode.

—I bet the clothes in Bradley's Medinah suitcase are absolutely disgusting now.

—I'd like to eat dinner at Zach Johnson's house. A southeast Iowa beef burger? Count me in.

—A few quotes from ZJ about the upcoming Ryder Cup are extremely rough in hindsight, but the highlight is, "The last thing I want is any potential for drama."

—I hope JT steals Fitzpatrick's notebook. Maybe "Full Swing" can make a heist episode about it next season.

—An underrated great part of this season for me is how much Spieth likes to mess with everyone on camera. "Rank the percentage chance that everyone who plays golf in this room is on the Ryder Cup team" made me laugh out loud, and you can tell Spieth thrived on making ZJ uncomfortable.

—This show LOVES to show players throwing the giant medicine balls around, and it seems like they love JT doing it more than anyone. I think if they had their druthers, they’d just do a whole medicine ball episode.

—Young JT footage was mind-blowing. That was a small human being!

—Even if you didn't know what ZJ ultimately decided, the fact that as he's contemplating the players, he calls JT "J-Tizzle" tells you everything you need to know.

—I was at the Wyndham, and I still can't believe how close he came to making that pitch. I think it would have been one of the most memorable non-winning moments in the history of "regular season" golf if it had gone in.

Final Assessment

Front to back, just stellar. This is the kind of episode you dream about when you think of what Full Swing could look like at its best. Again, the simplest way to put it is that it's right up there with the two Dahmen episodes as their best ever. And I can't wait for the last two.

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