This new Netflix golf thing is a rum business. It will need to be, says you. For how else are we, the poor unfortunate target demo, we streaming-war hostages lashed to our sofas, how are we to get through it if not with the help of something to take the edge off? Rum, gin, hooch - whatever you've got my man. And leave the bottle.
We are promised unprecedented access to the PGA Tour. Inside-the-ropes this, behind-the-scenes that. To which the only sane response must be - have the Netflix people ever met a PGA Tour golfer? What exactly do they imagine goes on behind the scenes of Abraham Ancer’s life?
Given the choice, here’s the one behind-the-scenes scene golf fans would gobble up in an instant. Fly-on-the-wall, hidden microphone, whatever it takes. Just show us the conversation that happened when the PGA Tour managed to convince Netflix that golf is where they should be going next with their Drive To Survive format. Some fast-talking exec fairly earned his stock options that day.
As for inside the ropes, the Netflix people surely can’t ever have been to an actual golf tournament if they buy that as a selling point. The greatest trick golf ever pulled was sticking those metal prongs into the turf and threading a length of bailer twine through the tops of them to remind the riff-raff of their place in the world. It’s genius when you think about it, conveying the impression that there is something magical going on beyond such a flimsily contrived barrier.
Anyone who has been inside the ropes at a major or a Ryder Cup will tell you the same thing. It’s fine. It’s grand. It’s a godsend for the shortarses among us because it means being able to see the action rather than spending an afternoon becoming intimately acquainted with every armpit in a five-mile radius. But that’s about as good as it gets. If you’re waiting for special secret insight to be gleaned inside the ropes, you’ll be waiting a while.
They pretend to boast about how much money they have taken off each other but they live in a world where everybody gets well anyway so none of it rings true
When you’re up close to golfers going about their business, you realise they are exactly as dull as you think they are. That’s not to denigrate them, it’s just the nature of the game. The whole point of golf is to be calm, to expunge all exterior thought, to glide through your round with a plain visage and head that is empty of everything that doesn’t apply to the next shot. Dustin Johnson has earned close $100m in prize money. Now you know how.
Dull and staid is the Valhalla of golf. The very thing that attracts millions of us to the game is the chance to be still, to be at peace, to be at a remove from the ever-going world. It’s the unspoken truth that drives us mad when we’re playing crap - stupidf*ckingballIamtryingtorelax. If Netflix wants spicy inside-the-ropes chat, it’s duffers like us they need to be chasing with boom mikes. Xander Schauffele has probably cursed four times in his life.
Content is content, yes. But golf doesn’t do pizzazz and it doesn’t do glamour. Pro golfers are the only people on the planet who look cooler in golf clothes than in normal streetwear. They are, pretty much across the board, a band of well-mannered dorks who happen to have this one unbelievable talent. They are as surprised as you are that it can get them girls.
They do not, as a rule, do anything to risk upsetting this. They do not rock the boat. They do not call each other out. They do not slag each other off. The closest they get to publicly razzing each other is to throw around faux-warnings about the imperative to bring a full wallet to the next practice round. They pretend to boast about how much money they have taken off each other but they live in a world where everybody gets well anyway so none of it rings true.
Maybe this is being harsh. Maybe the sheer cred of a Netflix series is just what pro golf needs to let some better light in
You'd wonder has anyone told Netflix how low the bar is set for what passes as a controversy in golf. This is a sport, after all, that last year got a full five months of juice out of one player rolling his eyes as another one walked behind him. Brooks Koepka v Bryson DeChambeau became The Jets and The Sharks of 2021 and the only truly memorable thing about was how desperately low-stakes it all felt.
But even that storyline isn't going to be open to Netflix now, since DeChambeau hasn't signed up to take part. Neither, for that matter, have Tiger Woods, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson or Patrick Reed. So basically, the best player ever, the best player right now, the best player on his day, the biggest ego and the two most obvious bad guys in the sport. If you were picking a top six of must-haves, those are the six. And none of them will be in it.
Maybe this is being harsh. Maybe the sheer cred of a Netflix series is just what pro golf needs to let some better light in and to share more of who all these people are. Certainly, the workaday professionals, the likes of Joel Dahmen, Harry Higgs, Max Homa et al have backstories that are well worth finding a broader audience for.
But in general, golf doesn’t tend to want to make a fuss. Every one of these players is a mini-corporation all by himself and the best way to grow that corporation is to win one-to-three golf tournaments a year. In Formula One, only a small handful of drivers can win any race. In golf, anyone can win any week. They don’t think about storylines, they think only about getting through Sunday afternoon with one shot less than the others. Publicity is grand for what it is. Winning is better.
It will be fascinating to watch it unfold, of course. We won’t see the fruits of it until this time next year at least. There is no bigger fool than someone who dismisses a piece of work before seeing a minute of it play out. Fair play to all involved for having a go.
But at this remove, to mangle an old Robin Williams line, it feels like God’s way of telling Netflix they have too much money.