Netflix’s first live golf event was fast-paced, frenetic and flawed

scenes from the netflix cup

From left: on-course reporter Bert Kresicher; Max Homa; Marshawn Lynch chatting up a Squid Game star.

getty images

The Netflix Cup — the streaming service behemoth’s first foray into live sports — was golf on acid. Check that. It was golf on whatever former NFL running back-turned-on-course reporter Marshawn Lynch was smoking as he interviewed the mashup of PGA Tour and Formula 1 stars who participated in a trippy couplet of 8-hole matches at Wynn Golf Club in Las Vegas Tuesday afternoon into evening.

It took all of one — well, technically four — swings for the wackiness to commence as Rickie Fowler and his F1 teammate, Lando Norris, and Justin Thomas and his F1 partner, Carlos Sainz, let their tee balls fly in unison on the opening hole, a short par-3 that was outfitted with F1 touches, including a starting line and track boundaries for the players’ golf carts. The goal, on this hole anyway: jar your ball as quickly as possible.

But when the teams motored up to the green and made a mad dash from their carts to finish out, no one seemed to know the rules.

Fowler and Norris both putted from where Fowler’s ball had settled, about 15 feet right of the hole, while Thomas chipped from where he had tugged his tee shot, just left of the green. (Sainz’s tee ball was nowhere to be found.) In what quickly devolved into chaos, Fowler putted first, running his birdie try a couple feet by, and his partner quickly following suit, missing in a similar spot. As Fowler’s second putt banged off the flagstick, Norris inexplicably picked up his own ball and placed it back down before knocking it in.

As all that was happening, Thomas’ chip zipped past the hole, spurring Sainz back into action. Before Thomas’ ball had come to rest, Sainz used his putter to stop the ball and then rap it back toward the hole, a clear violation of Rule 10.1(d), which prohibits golfers from striking a moving ball. Sainz’s putt dropped but a moment after Norris’ had.

What had just happened?! Damn if the players knew. As they convened in front of the green and compared notes, Lynch tried to get clarity for the streamers at home.

“What’s going on?” he asked the four players.

“We’re not sure,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to figure that out.”

After further deliberation, Lynch said, “We gotta rock-paper-scissor for it!”

That wouldn’t be necessary, because after a replay review, officials deemed that Norris had illegally picked up and placed his ball and thus was disqualified from the hole. Why officials turned a blind eye to Sainz’s actions is unclear, but the scene was the perfect set-up for more kookiness to come.    

As has been the case in some other made-for-TV matches in the modern era, the golf at the Netflix Cup was almost a side note. Sure, it’s fun to watch JT hit nippy wedge shots or Tony Finau — who played in the second match with Pierre Gasly against Max Homa and Alex Albon — smash a drive into the gloaming. But the real action is everything that happens before, after and between the shots, like, say, Full Swing darling Joel Dahmen, in the booth alongside host Kay Adams, explaining why it’s easier to chip off down-grain grass; or Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes dialing into the stream to reveal the optimal number of Coors Lights to consume during a round (“four or five”); or Fowler dapping up superstar DJ Steve Aoki, who seemed to be on every tee box.

the netflix cup participants taking a selfie at wynn gc
From left: Carlos Sainz, Justin Thomas, Lando Norris and Rickie Fowler. getty images

Or perhaps you were more drawn to some of the weirder or more uncomfortable moments, like, say, comedian Bert Kresicher flashing his hairy midriff during the pre-game show; or PETA protestors storming the 1st tee (blink and you missed them, but one did make a brief appearance on the broadcast); or the ominous Squid Game guards standing sentinel by a tee box; or Gasly looking so nervous over the ball that it’s hard to imagine him being so collected behinid the wheel of a $15 million F1 car. (Dahmen called one of Gasly’s shanks a “car crash.”)

The showstopper, though, wasn’t any of the players or play-callers; it was the Strip’s newest attraction, the Sphere, a 366-foot-tall LED-emblazoned dome that looms over the golf course and on several occasions had the players in awe. Bono crooning “Where the Streets Have No Name” in the techy arena is one thing. But Homa getting yardages against a backdrop of the world’s largest emoticon is quite another.    

There was all kinds of silliness to consume, but if Netflix is serious about getting into live sports coverage, it will need to sure up its production quality. In spots, the broadcasters seemed unsure of the match scores and format, and though the players wore earpieces, the devices frequently malfunctioned, limiting interaction between the players and Dahmen and Co. Most of the broadcast’s “Unforgettable Moments” segments were a flop, because most of those moments were, in fact, quite forgettable. The garish scoring graphics also were difficult to quickly decipher, which should never be the case, especially when there are only two matches on the course. On the upside, the drone flyovers were captivating, as were Lynch’s accompanying narrations, notably his description of the 4th hole as the “fo ho.” Not a term you’ll hear Nantz employ.  

The Netflix Cup was harmless fun, and for sports fans there were worse ways to wile away a Tuesday evening in November. But the two-and-a-half-hour program also was a reminder that producing golf isn’t easy, nor is trying to make the game look hip or cool, at least in ways that satisfy the 2023 definitions of those words.

Even seemingly controllable moments can be hard to nail. As Thomas and Sainz were celebrating their win, they stepped onto a podium in black-and-white checkered jackets that were a nod to F1. In Sainz’ right hand was a magnum of champagne; in his left was his and Thomas’ trophy, a heaving black cup brandished with the Netflix logo.

“Speech! Speech!” the crowd implored.  

As Sainz raised the trophy over his left shoulder, it slipped from his hand and fell to the ground, breaking into pieces.

The assembled onlookers didn’t seem to know how to react, resulting in a combination of laughter and groans.

Alan Bastable

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at GOLF.com, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.

Watch, play, win. Chirp Golf is your home for the best of real money Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and Free-To-Play games.

Watch, play, win

Chirp Golf is your home for the best of real money Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and Free-To-Play games. Featuring simple to play. easy to learn, and fun games. Chirp Golf has something for every golf fan.

Scan to Download:

Google Play Apple Store