Netflix reveals star-studded cast of PGA Tour pros for new docuseries
In early December, the eyes of the world turned to an unlikely event: a small golf tournament in the Bahamas. The Hero World Challenge is a 20-player invitational placed squarely in the sport’s offseason, but this time around event host Tiger Woods was making a breathlessly anticipated public appearance, his first since a terrifying car crash the previous February. It was a huge week for the golf world; the sport’s No. 1 draw indicated that he was plotting another comeback.
But even as the PGA Tour celebrated its hero of past and present, it was making plans for its future, too.
On the same day Woods spoke to reporters on national television, camera crews elsewhere on property were set up for subjects of their own. Filming was quietly beginning for a Netflix documentary series that promises an unprecedented look at the PGA Tour and the lives and stories of its biggest stars. More than a half-dozen pros sat for their first interviews that week. Others consulted their agents, spoke with show producers and considered and reconsidered their participation in a show that hopes to introduce professional golf to an entirely new audience.
The series is modeled in part after the success of Netflix’s Formula 1 hit Drive to Survive, which is credited with a significant uptick in F1 interest and viewership across the United States since its launch. Some of the same key players are involved here; the still-to-be-named PGA Tour show will be produced by Netflix in conjunction with Vox Media Studios and Drive to Survive producers Box to Box Films.
On Tuesday, Netflix made plans to roll out its official announcement and confirmed a star-studded cast that includes five of the top seven players in the world, major winners, Ryder Cuppers, some of the game’s most beloved personalities and, well, you’ll see the list for yourself below. A Netflix spokesperson also confirmed that all four majors — yes, even the ultra-guarded Masters — are on board.
Here’s what else we know.
In 2019, discussions began in earnest about the possibility of a Tour-centric docuseries. Rickie Fowler was the first pro to raise his hand, vouching for the merits of the idea and volunteering as participant; a small group quickly followed including Justin Thomas, Tony Finau and Cameron Champ.
A PGA Tour spokesperson said that the organization had been intrigued by “all-access” documentaries for several years, including Formula 1’s Drive to Survive, the NFL’s Hard Knocks and ESPN’s Last Dance but “had not found the right combination of production partners, players, and a distribution partner until now.”
The Tour and Vox Media Studios began shopping the project around in 2019, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2021 that Netflix officially greenlit production. Since then, producers have been eagerly courting show subjects and plotting how to best showcase untold stories of professional golf.
A show about the lives and careers of professional golfers hinges first and foremost on one thing: the professional golfers. Tour pros have earned a reputation as carefully managed and risk-averse, which seemingly presented a challenge in recruitment. Would players want in?
Based off the list of committed pros, that answer has largely been “yes.” Five of the top seven pros in the world — Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Viktor Hovland and Xander Schauffele — are all on board. Five additional top-20 pros are in, too. Jordan Spieth may be the headliner, though a resurgent Rickie Fowler would prove a popular character, and one source with knowledge of Brooks Koepka’s interview in the Bahamas came away gleeful at just how much the star had revealed.
In all, Netflix confirmed the participation of 22 pros (listed in alphabetical order below) plus the world’s No. 1-ranked amateur, Keita Nakajima. The rest of the cast, in alphabetical order:
It’s telling that the list of big names missing — Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods — is shorter than the roster of participants. But pros can dictate the amount of access that cameras have to their personal lives, and those not currently committed could still end up appearing in the show.
“It’s not like golf has a union that negotiates on behalf of players, so you go through the process of getting buy-in from each player and their team individually. That takes time,” said one source.
Reached ahead of the Sony Open in Hawaii, Joel Dahmen said he was he was eager to watch the show, if slightly nervous about his own appearance.
“Excited would be the wrong word. I am apprehensive about the entire thing,” he said. “I’ve never had anything like this before; unlike some of these other guys I’m not used to having cameras around all the time.”
As for his role in the cast?
“I know that I’m going to be on the show with a bunch of good golfers — and me,” he said. “I can assume that based off the other people on the show, they’ll probably want a little bit more of the fun from our day-to-day life, although I also don’t want to be the class clown who’s never practicing or being productive. Between myself and [his entertaining caddie] Geno, the s— we do on a day-to-day basis, we should be able to strike that balance.”
The PGA Tour has historically worked hard to curate and protect squeaky-clean images of its players, so when the project was first reported this fall, viewers expressed some skepticism about just how “real” Tour pros would be. But the Tour and showrunners both insist they’ve taken a step back.
“We do not have editorial control,” a Tour spokesperson said. “We will be involved to the extent that Netflix and the producers have the access they need to film at our events. We want them to make a great show, and we all agree the documentary needs to be as authentic as possible.”
The enthusiasm of Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has been crucial in getting to this point. People familiar with the process were impressed with his open-mindedness and that he became a crucial voice in bringing the project to market.
“Everything that I’ve experienced so far is that the Tour is fully invested in making the realest possible reality,” said one source close to negotiations.
As a result, access will be comprehensive. While camera crews will likely focus on smaller numbers of players each week — a 22-person cast is tough to follow — the production team will have complete rights to film at events and to use broadcast footage from competition, too. Players can be mic’d up during competition if they so choose, although the Tour added that that may not be necessary. “We also believe that our production infrastructure has ample capabilities to capture player/caddie audio for the show without mic’ing players,” a spokesperson said.
Late in negotiations, the show had one major hurdle left to clear — literally. Could producers get buy-in from the four major championships, too? None of the four are run by the PGA Tour, which meant those discussions were brokered separately but successfully. That includes this year’s Masters, which means secretive Augusta National agreed to lift its ropes.
“For the first time ever, the PGA Tour and the governing bodies that conduct men’s major championships — Augusta National Golf Club, the PGA of America, the USGA, and The R&A — will provide entry into the sport’s biggest events,” the show announced in a release.
This year’s PGA Championship will be held at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., the U.S. Open will be contended at The Country Club just outside of Boston and the Open Championship returns to St. Andrews. The show will follow them there.
While both Netflix and the Tour declined to comment on an official release date, filming will continue through the end of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, wrapping with the Tour Championship at the end of August. Following the model of Drive to Survive, the show’s first episodes will likely be released as hype builds for the following Tour season in early 2023. In other words, golf fans may not see any of this footage for another year. They’ll hope the show is worth waiting for.