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So…was it good?

What the critics are saying about Netflix’s Full Swing: An Internet round-up

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Daniel Boczarski

February 16, 2023

The Netflix documentary Full Swing hit the streaming service on Feb. 15, and if you’re like us, you waited a long time to see how it would play out. So…was it good? Was it bad? Was it somewhere in between? Now that we’ve had a couple of days to digest, let’s take a quick tour around the media world—golf-specific and otherwise—for a round-up of how the critics evaluated the series. Before you do, though, make sure to check out our episode-by-episode reviews and recaps, starting with Episode 1, and check out the Local Knowledge podcast feed for further episode breakdowns.

In the 20 reviews below, we counted four that were outright positive, four that were outright negative, and 12 we’ve classified as “mixed.” Talk about an even distribution! We’ve presented them below by grouping—starting with the positive reviews, because we’re nice guys.

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Keyur Khamar

The Good

“Golf’s biggest banality gets a breath of fresh air through Netflix’s eight-part docuseries, streaming now. I think as far as entertainment products go, it’s hard not to believe this will help stimulate the growth golf has been experiencing since 2019. Not just because it exists—and on a platform of this size, no less—but because it’s equally suited for golf-agnostic Drive to Survive graduates and people like me, who’ve loved this game so long I actually used to root for Mickelson.”

“This is my three-putt approach to telling you the Netflix series ‘Full Swing’’ is so compelling and well-filmed (and edited) and is brimming with so many intriguing storylines that even a casual golf fan like me can find it absolutely binge-worthy. My guess is the regular weekend golfer who also avidly follows the game will find it addictively watchable, as the series follows the PGA Tour throughout the 2022 season. And the timing couldn’t have been better for some added drama, given the advent of the controversial, Saudi Arabia-funded LIV Golf and the threat it poses to the PGA Tour.”

"Our Call: STREAM IT. Whether you’re a seasoned golf fan or someone who only has a vague awareness of the sport’s existence, Full Swing is a great way to latch onto the inherent drama behind the competition."

"I've watched all eight episodes of Full Swing (multiple times) and it has to be said that Vox Media and Box to Box studios have done an incredible job…a series that is must-see TV. I binged it all in one afternoon/evening and I think a lot of golfers will do the same."

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Netflix

The Mixed

Hardcore fans will certainly enjoy the show, given a glimpse into how the professionals prepare. From McIlroy, Thomas and Spieth gathering in the gym to the latter’s mid-round commentary while struggling to find his best form: “Oh Jordan, what are you doing? Get lucky, get so lucky.” These are golden moments that even host broadcasters sometimes miss during the majors, ensuring Full Swing delivers something fresh to a sport that has found itself at boiling point.

It’s an enjoyable watch, the coverage of the changing face of golf is excellent and the cinematography and behind-the-scenes access will keep golf and non-golf fans watching. But… We can’t help but feel that there were some seriously missed opportunities to delve that little bit deeper. This feels like more of a surface scratch…If season two gets the go-ahead, it would be great to see the show step away from the formulaic Netflix documentary style – one size doesn’t have to fit all. We’d also love to see a few more players and stories included and perhaps a rethink around how the episodes are released.

“Here’s my one-sentence review of Netflix’s golf documentary ‘Full Swing:’ It’s good, not great…That probably isn’t going to make a billboard, but especially if you consider yourself a hardcore golf fan you might come away underwhelmed. The fact is, the golf fan isn’t the target audience; it’s geared toward welcoming a new audience to the game and I sincerely hope it succeeds to do for golf what ‘Drive to Survive’ has done for Formula One…Although I have my doubts.”

“The thing about appealing to everyone is that suddenly you have to compete with everything. In order to do this, ‘Full Swing’ understandably chooses to cut back on the nitty gritty moments and insights that make us terminally ill golf sickos tune in every week. But even with unprecedented access, when you cut out the stuff that separates these golfers from every other golfer on the planet, what new fans are left with can feel fairly bland, particularly when compared to all the other things fans could be watching.”

“But there’s also something to be said for last summer being defined by the PGA Tour versus LIV. This was a chance to document its details with more access than anyone could imagine. Perhaps an opportunity lost. Those fans who follow professional golf on a daily basis might think so. They may also see the voices guiding the story — an array of golf journalists, TV reporters and personalities — as offering hand-holding elementary analysis for newbies, as opposed to provocative thought…This is the difficult balance of trying to serve multiple audiences.”

“The Dahmen episode is absolutely fantastic, and the others are good, but they don’t dig in and answer our questions about LIV Golf and what the guys truly think about the divide. I think the Ian Poulter episode gives us the best look into why people are really taking the Saudi offer and leans somewhat into the implications of taking the money. But so much is just the same stuff we’ve heard in press conferences all year.”

“Like my F1 pals, as a die-hard golf fan I had mixed feelings. Large chunks of episodes largely tell us what we already know – whether it be following tournaments we’ve already seen, or graphics that tell us what a birdie is, or prominent golf journalists popping up to explain to us what a playoff is, or what a missed cut means. They must be wondering why they weren’t given the opportunity to add some much-needed colour..But this is a documentary aimed at general sports fans. It’s not really meant to be for me or you in that sense. And the parts with the players, whether in their houses or while they are mic’d up at tournaments, that offer a genuine look behind the curtain that we otherwise don’t get, more than make up for it.”

“As the son of a PGA golfer who was weaned on the game, my expectations of “Full Swing” were higher than the uninitiated viewers, but lower than those thoroughly immersed in all aspects of the sport. I’d like to say that “Full Swing” will be relatable to non-golfers, but I can’t. It is something that requires a working knowledge of the sport going in. Had it been trimmed down to four or so hours, “Full Swing” would have had far more bite and staying power.”

“The editing can be rather hit or miss at times though, with some bizarre music choices that give this an unintentional cheesy feel on occasion. Thankfully these are overshadowed by the direction each episode takes, which takes two different golfers and explores their personal and professional lives, intent on finding out what makes them tick…Unlike Break Point and Drive to Survive, if you’re not a fan of golf going into this, Full Swing is unlikely to change your opinion. Die-hard fans might find this a bit basic too, making for a somewhat subjective watch. It’s certainly not bad, but it’s not as good as it could have been either.”

The largely non-linear overall narrative arc of the show can make bingeing it feel like treading water. For example, after the premiere episode details Justin Thomas' 2022 PGA Championship victory, we find ourselves returning twice more to Tulsa and host club Southern Hills. We see Matt Fitzpatrick fall short there in episode 5, then witness Chilean rookie Mito Pereira's final-hole collapse in the penultimate episode. Seeing a single event from the perspectives of several players is interesting in a vacuum, but the show's parallel attempts to profile different players in single episodes, as well as trace the overall season, prove difficult to reconcile.

Drive to Survive set a perilously high bar for these documentaries, and it is probably unfair to judge all of them by the success of a show that benefitted from landing in the rarefied televisual landscape of the pandemic. With that in mind, there are enough characters and storylines in Full Swing to keep people coming back. And that is one thing that often makes a sporting documentary great: longevity.

“It suggests they wanted to tell the story of professional golf through the prism of various player’s lives. What results is something like a golf themed Rashomon homage. The same historical events revisited episode after episode, but each time recounted by a different player…So rather than try and show events unfolding in parallel, each episode resets the clock to the start of the year and effectively pretends like the individual player’s story is unfolding in isolation.”

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Daniel Boczarski

The Negative

“The show’s potential to break out as a hit is undone by those dreaded algorithms and beancounters who think they’ve found a formula after just one hit show. And these are not the kind of scratch-and-claw counters who’d belly flop on a penny, but the types Netflix leans on more than ever to make show renewal decisions. The producers of Full Swing appear to have been saddled with a demand to make the show accessible to people who know nothing about…anything. The show repeatedly announces loudly, proudly and cynically that Netflix no longer trusts itself.”

“Netflix’s new series Full Swing aims to do for golf what Drive To Survive did for Formula One... but shanks it horribly off the tee, into a pond, tries to roll its trousers up and hit the ball out of the pond, falls over in the pond, gets into difficulty, needs rescuing by a frogman, eventually catches Weil’s disease and suffers massive organ failure and dies, horribly, propped up on an uncomfortable chintz banquette in a clubhouse being yelled at by a double-glazing salesman about how many miles to a gallon he gets in the Audi.”

Chamblee’s frank assessment should be the jumping-off point for Full Swing’s well-deserved critique of LIV Golf, but sadly, it soon becomes clear that the show isn’t willing to go any further. When it comes time for Johnson to tell his story in Episode 5, “American Dreams,” producers give him free rein to spin his move to LIV as a no-brainer business decision…Refusing to challenge the powerful players so obviously reframing the controversy in their favor is an extreme act of cowardice, one that negates Full Swing’s earlier efforts to claim the moral high ground on this issue.

“It is understandable if the filmmakers didn’t want to lose their access to the more intemperate players, but the really probing questions are out there hanging, like a long, long drive that’s heading toward the woods. ‘Full Swing’ wants to be entertaining, and often is. But in its timidity, it has dug its own sand trap.”

Golf Digest's Episode Recaps