Netflix Cup review: F1’s golf crossover succeeds amid hijinks and chaos

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LAS VEGAS — Chaos. It’s the only word one can use to describe Tuesday’s Netflix Cup, which featured four PGA Tour stars and four F1 drivers competing in teams in the streaming platform’s first live sporting event.

There was a Squid Game hole where drivers needed to wait for the young girl’s head to face the other direction before teeing off and a few trips into the sidelines to find wayward balls throughout the eight-hole match. Alex Albon slipped and fell when hitting a ball, Max Homa managed to knock off one of the cameras, and Pierre Gasly found the water a few times.

Ultimately, Carlos Sainz and Justin Thomas came out on top, only for the Ferrari driver to drop and break the trophy. Thomas said at one point afterward as he picked up pieces of the trophy and moved to hand them to the other competitors: “Everybody gets one.”

‘Full Swing’ meets ‘Drive to Survive’

It was a silly day filled with laughter, smiles and a few tense, competitive moments. And while the broadcast drew mixed reactions, Tuesday’s event was arguably a success. Collin Morikawa, who had to withdraw from the event due to an injury and was replaced by Tony Finau, warned The Athletic ahead of the Netflix Cup, “It’s not going to be your typical slower speed of what golf has to offer.”

Netflix combined the slowest and fastest sports for the event, capturing that dichotomy on the first hole. Sainz, Thomas, Lando Norris and Rickie Fowler lined up to tee off with the standard F1 start lights blinking out above them. Once the lights went out, away they went, hitting the ball as accurately and quickly as possible before sprinting to their golf carts.

It seemed disorderly and confusing, given how drastically different it is from the standard game of golf, but there was also a wholesome element to it. Though a competition with major bragging rights on the line, the athletes seemed to let loose and relax. It depicted exactly why shows like ‘Full Swing’ and ‘Drive to Survive’ have been successful — letting the athletes be authentically themselves and their personalities shine through.

Sainz and Thomas got away first while Fowler drove Norris on the first hole, which isn’t terribly surprising given Fowler has a motocross background. Track limits were painted onto the course for this hole, and Sainz exceeded them once. Once they arrived at the finish line, the scramble continued as the four athletes bolted for their team’s best-shot golf balls — only one made it on the green.

Albon, Homa, Gasly and Finau competed shortly after, and Gasly/Finau took an early edge, leaving Albon/Homa to play catch-up.

“We just got out-hustled,” Homa said. They won all the gimmicky games, and I feel we played better golf. That’s the game, but it was fun.”

“We were purists,” Albon added.

“Yeah, we respect the game too much,” Homa said.

While it wasn’t a typical round of golf, Netflix stuck to its successful formula, providing a look at the personalities of two big sports docuseries “Full Swing” and “Drive to Survive.” Ian Holmes, F1’s director of media rights, said to The Athletic ahead of the event, “What ‘Drive to Survive’ has done is given us and given the fans, especially new fans, a better understanding of who these people are. We see the Netflix Cup is just an extension of that.”

A meeting of the minds

The crossover ran deeper than cramming together two of Netflix’s most successful sports documentary shows, as heavy as the streaming giant’s marketing may have been. Speaking to the golfers and the F1 drivers before they teed off, neither group could hide their excitement about the company they would share.

“The honor to play with these guys is just incredible,” Gasly said. “I have a lot of jealous people in my family, my WhatsApp is going crazy in the family group and everyone.” Thomas added: “Ours is the same, just for the opposite, to be around these guys!”

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Max Homa plays in The Netflix Cup on November 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.(David Becker/Getty Images for Netflix)

Being part of the event that kickstarts F1’s big Las Vegas weekend is also a big deal for the golfers. “For golf to be in the middle of all of it, it’s just exciting,” said Finau ahead of the event. “It’s going to be a great day no matter what for our sport, for Netflix and the drivers. It can’t be anything but good vibes all around.”

“Wait for me to hit a drive!” quipped Gasly, sparking laughs around the table.

Although the golfers admit it’s hard to compare the impact of “Full Swing” with “Drive to Survive” given the latter’s blistering success, changing the game for F1 in the United States, they have seen a shift in the fanbase and the buzz around their sport.

“Hopefully, the F1 fanbase takes a liking or respects golf in a way they didn’t before, just because the drivers enjoy playing our game,” Finau said. “They’re fans of ours and the game of golf.”

Thomas appreciated how serious an interest the F1 drivers were taking in golf. “It’s pretty cool because these guys do love golf, and they do play,” he said. “They’re very busy. And their priority is far from golf.”

That fandom is something that has grown dramatically among the F1 drivers in recent years, particularly the younger generation. What started as a shared pursuit for Albon, Sainz and Norris in particular, a way for them to get out of their apartments through the Covid-19 pandemic, has become a serious pastime for the trio.

It even had an impact on Albon’s personal life: his interest in golf also led him to meet his girlfriend, professional golfer Lily Muni He, who got into F1 through “Drive to Survive.” “I’m always thankful for Netflix!” Albon joked.

“It’s strange, (golf) is our… I don’t want to say sanctuary, but it is our release to play golf,” he added. “We were always looking for a moment to get outside (during the pandemic). There’s not much to do in terms of life around Monaco, so the golf course is pretty much top of the list.

“It’s weird how golf is taking over Formula 1.” On Tuesday, under the watching eyes of the giant emoji on the Sphere, that takeover hit a strange new peak.

More from The Athletic’s Las Vegas Grand Prix coverage:

F1 news live updates: Lewis Hamilton excited by Las Vegas GP ‘opportunity’

F1’s Sphere takeover: From traffic snarl to Las Vegas GP’s ‘incredible backdrop’

Why F1’s first Las Vegas grand prix was an utter failure — and a ‘lesson learned’

Las Vegas GP hotels go all-in on F1, from Bottas haircuts to ‘Shoey Bars’

(Lead image: David Becker/Getty Images for Netflix; Design: Eamonn Dalton/The Athletic)

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