Tour Confidential: Netflix’s PGA Tour doc, golf villains, LPGA debut

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy is filmed by a Netflix cameraman during last year's U.S. Open.

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Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss the trailer for the new Netflix PGA Tour docuseries, Tour payouts and the start of the LPGA season.

1. Netflix released its trailer for its much-anticipated PGA Tour docuseries, modeled after the popular F1 Drive to Survive. It will also apparently feature Rory McIlroy, which wasn’t known until the trailer came out. Dubbed Full Swing, it premieres Feb. 15. What are you most looking forward to seeing in this docuseries, and do you think it will succeed in attracting the non-golfer or viewer who doesn’t watch pro golf already?

A screenshot of Ian Poulter from the trailer for Netflix's PGA Tour docuseries, "Full Swing."
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Ryan Barath, Senior Equipment Editor (@RDSBarath) As a hardcore golf fan, I’m excited to get more of an inside look at professional golfers, their views on the state of the tour as a whole, and in general, a behind-the-curtain look at the majors. 

The issue that this show will create for new fans is an old one: how golf is presented on TV. Between TV windows and how some golfers are playing, no matter how many people love seeing Joel Dahmen at the Waste Management, trying to see him on a normal broadcast is next to impossible. This is where F1 still has a big advantage, since every race is every driver, though with the new designated events, I guess that’s what the Tour is trying to accomplish. 

Zephyr Melton, assistant editor (@zephyrmelton): I’m most excited to see my coworkers’ cameos! A handful of GOLF staffers were mic’d up at various events last year, and I’m stoked to see how they’re featured in the show. As far as attracting non-golfers, I’m sure the LIV-PGA Tour rivalry should be an intriguing storyline. Drama sells, and there was nothing more dramatic in pro golf last season than the Saudi saga.

Jack Hirsh, Assistant Editor (@JR_HIRSHey): I’ve polled some of my friends who are either just getting into golf or not into golf, and most are at least intrigued. I haven’t gotten to watch the F1 series, but when that came out, I feel like I knew a lot of people who all of a sudden became F1 fans. I’d be surprised if it had the same impact, but I think we can expect a good number of people to be introduced to the game by it. I’m most looking forward to seeing the players react to LIV in real-time. So cool they got Poulter!

Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Will it have an effect on non-golf fans? Of course — it’s Netflix. It’s hard to think of a better way to reach new audiences than to tap into their enormous list of content-hungry subscribers. What am I most looking forward to? Peeking behind the curtain as several stars make life-changing decisions about launching to LIV.

2. Harry Higgs told Golfweek he thinks the PGA Tour may have a problem with its TV product now that several big personalities have jumped to LIV. “We joke back and forth, [LIV] took all the a**holes,” Higgs said. “They took all the villains. And that’s a problem.” What do you think about his assessment?

Harry Higgs of the United States walks on the first green at Sea Island Resort Seaside Course on November 19, 2022 in St Simons Island, Georgia.
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Barath: Sports are popular because they are entertaining ,and as much as it might become easier to engage casual fans with rivalries and ‘good’ vs. ‘bad,’ I think most golf fans tune in to watch golfers at a high level try to win events. So overall I don’t really agree with Harry on this.

Melton: I think Higgs has got a great point. Every sport needs its heels, and the Tour has lost most of theirs. Having no true “villains” takes a little bit of juice away from the Tour’s product.

Hirsh: Every sport has its villains. The NFL has the Patriots and the Cowboys. The MLB has the Yankees. The NBA has the Lakers. People love to have something to hate. That’s always been a little tougher in golf, but there were definitely guys who played the role at least. I think losing certain guys hurts a little, but given the way golf is, I think it’s more of a positive. I stand with RB’s more optimistic view.

Dethier: The Player Impact Program essentially ranks players by their value to the Tour — and LIV claimed five of the top 10 players from the 2021 PIP. (Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson.) That’s not good! The Tour depends on the storylines of its personalities and now several of those personalities are gone. More will replace ‘em, of course. But that will take time.

3. The PGA Tour has long distributed 18 percent of its tournament purses to the winner in its typical 36-hole cut events, with second place usually taking home around 10 to 11 percent. Adam Scott was asked about this at the Sony Open and suggested 40 percent be given to the winner. (“Reward excellence,” he said) Jordan Spieth said he wasn’t opposed to the winner’s share increasing “a couple points” but disagreed with as much as 40 percent. For comparison, LIV Golf paid 20 percent to its seven individual tournament winners. Is the PGA Tour due to tweak this number? Why hasn’t it?

Adam Scott poses with the trophy after winning the Genesis Invitational in February 2020.
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Barath: Historically, the Tour was created to offer pros the ability to “make a living,” but with so much money in the sport at the highest level, I think Adam Scott is right. The best of the best should be rewarded monumentally more than someone in 50th place.
The Tour needs to have more volatility and fewer exempt players, but with the current structure as a members’ organization, it’s pretty hard to get a majority of those members to vote against their best interests if they’re not a top 50 player, which is likely part of the reason things are so slow to change.

Melton: Tweaking the number and “rewarding excellence” might sound like a great idea to the top stars, but the journeymen would likely take umbrage at the suggestion. And with the everyman pro representing a majority of the Tour, it seems unlikely that the number will ever inflate to Scott’s suggested figure.

Hirsh: I agree, Zeph. A couple points could be in the works, but didn’t we just make a series of events that will pay $3.8 million or more to the winners? That sounds like rewarding excellence to me. By creating the designated events, I believe the Tour has already accomplished the same goal as tweaking the payout structure. For it to change would just anger the everyman pro more than they already were. And the Tour NEEDS the everyman pro.

Dethier: Sure, I could see giving ‘em a few more percentage points, though 40 seems like a lot. I’d put more energy behind giving the top finishers in smaller events (like the Sentry) more World Ranking points. The new system seems to have let down its winners in those events and should adopt a steeper point slope. (Just ask Jon Rahm.)

4. Next week’s American Express field is loaded with 10 of the world’s top-19 players, including five of the top seven, despite the fact that it’s not one of the Tour’s 17 big-money designated events. There was some concern, at least from the outside, that the tournaments that weren’t designated for 2023 would see less-than-stellar fields with fewer stars, but that’s not the case next week in La Quinta. Are you surprised, and will we see more of this with other non-designated tournaments?

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan at the Sentry.
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Barath: If you look at the big picture, I’m not surprised. My reasoning is regardless of the purse, these non-designated events still reward the same amount of FedEx Cup points, which for top players (playing well) actually provides a potentially easier chance to stack up points compared to the “big events” with more higher ranking players. I also think that because it’s an event at the beginning of the year, a lot of these top players who didn’t play as much in the fall want to get off to a good start. The real question is what happens to the smaller events come the dogs days of summer. 

Melton: I’m a bit surprised the AmEx has such a strong field, but a lot of the top stars haven’t played much meaningful golf in several months. They’re itching for competition. I’d expect we’ll see some of the non-elevated events in the non-major season have unexpectedly strong fields, but during the grind of the summer, top stars will likely stick to the status quo.

Hirsh: The AmEx seems to have a stronger field than in years’ past, but I think that has more to do with where it is on the schedule than anything else. After the Sentry, there isn’t another designated event until the Phoenix Open the second week of February. January is also the only month until July with just one designated event. Once Phoenix hits, however, there are four designated events in five weeks. Most of the big names playing Palm Springs will probably take Torrey and Pebble off before that gauntlet stretch. The other part is all the top players have a quota to meet for non-designated FedEx Cup events. Someone like Rahm, who played the CJ Cup last October, needs to add only one regular event to his schedule for the rest of the year. 

Dethier: Good points from everybody here — schedule and location are both in the AmEx’s favor — and I’m guessing some sponsors have found ways to make it worth the players’ while to attend, too.

5. The LPGA kicks off its 2023 season this week at the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. What’s the one storyline you are looking forward to unfolding in the next 12 months?

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Barath: First and foremost, as one of GOLF’s “gear nuts,” my big thing to watch is going to be some of the top players changing equipment manufacturers, along with whether any of these players are going to get off to slower starts in 2023, or just keep rolling.
Secondly, I am hoping to continue to watch the re-emergence of Lydia Ko after her big comeback year in 2022. The only thing she didn’t accomplish was winning a major, and all signs point to her doing that in 2023.

Melton: I’m ready to see if Nelly Korda can get back to her 2021 world-beating form. She struggled a bit last year with injury and inconsistency, but she capped off the year with a win. If she can stay healthy all season, I expect 2023 to be another banner year.

Hirsh: Would you believe me if I told you Lexi Thompson last won on the LPGA Tour in 2019? Age 27 is awfully young to have a three-year-winless drought. She did win an LET event at the Aramco event in New York, so I’ll be interested to see if she can take that momentum back to the LPGA Tour, or even a major.

Dethier: How will Lydia Ko fare as World No. 1? This is the third act (at least) of her career, and it’s been fascinating to watch her climb the mountain again. I’m curious what she’ll do at the top.

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