Frequently in sports stories, we come across the story of the underdog – the courageous rebel who emerges unexpectedly and challenges the dominant and malevolent authority. However, a new Netflix docuseries on golf challenges this conventional narrative and presents it differently.
This year, the renowned production company Box to Box Films has launched a new insider sports docuseries, Full Swing, after previously featuring Formula 1 and tennis in their earlier works. While Drive to Survive aimed to increase the popularity of Formula 1 in the US, and Break Point highlighted upcoming tennis talents, Full Swing aims to reinvigorate the PGA and confront its latest rival: LIV Golf. LIV Golf, supported by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and prominent figures such as Phil Mickelson and former President Donald Trump, is the first significant challenge to the PGA in recent years. As we delve into Full Swing’s first season, we’ll witness how the underdog LIV Golf is portrayed as a malicious opponent of the established PGA, offering a fresh take on the classic underdog storyline.
A hero of the establishment and a villainous rebel
The portrayal of the PGA and LIV in Full Swing is far from subtle. In the first episode’s opening scene, the PGA tour is lauded as “the ultimate level of men’s professional golf.” Later in the same episode, retired golfer Brandel Chamblee characterizes LIV as a menace to “the very foundation of the game.” Chamblee also discusses how PGA players are being lured by lucrative contracts from LIV and wonders who will “take a stand.” By framing the PGA vs. LIV conflict as a moral dilemma and implying that LIV golfers lack ethics, the show defends the PGA’s more conventional values. Despite being accused of being too conservative and rigid in the past, when confronted with an opponent that appears to disregard traditional values, the PGA’s adherence to established principles can be seen as a commitment to ethical principles.
A decision between financial gain and ethical principles
The third episode of Full Swing, “Money or Legacy,” focuses on veteran golfer Ian Poulter, whom LIV is pursuing with enormous money. Poulter is known for his flamboyant personality and attire, including his colorful pants. The episode centers around his decision whether to leave the PGA and the audience is given a glimpse into his thought process. Poulter talks about wanting to leave a comfortable inheritance for his children, as he grew up in poverty and desires a better life for them. His rationale for accepting the money and joining LIV is presented as genuinely wholesome. However, this perspective changes in a montage of news commentators criticizing anyone involved with LIV, citing Saudi Arabia’s alleged human rights abuses.
Poulter’s golfing abilities are also beginning to decline as he ages, and in one tournament where he doesn’t perform well enough to earn money, it becomes clear that he questions why he’s still committed to the PGA. It’s worth noting that in some PGA tournaments, many golfers effectively work for no pay. LIV, on the other hand, provides large contracts with guaranteed income. It’s easy to understand why golfers would be enticed by a LIV proposal from a financial standpoint.
Full Swing is compelled to challenge narrative conventions in light of the intricate reality of current events in the golf world. Whether it’s serendipitous or a testament to adept documentary filmmaking, this upending sets Full Swing apart, not just from Box to Box Film’s earlier works, but from most sports stories altogether.