Episode 520: Netflix’s ‘Full Swing,’ Gabrielle Zevin, Waco tragedy

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Erik van Rooyen in 'Full Swing'  Credit: Netflix (C) 2023
Netflix (C) 2023

Executive Producer Chad Mumm takes us behind the scenes of the high-pressure lives of PGA golfers in his compelling Netflix docuseries, ‘Full Swing.’ And Gabrielle Zevin talks about her captivating, best-selling novel, ‘Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow.’ Also, author Jeff Guinn on the tragic saga of Waco.

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  • Netflix's 'Full Swing' looks back at one of professional golf's most disruptive years

    At its most elemental level, Netflix’s eight-part docuseries on the PGA Tour, “Full Swing,” is designed to satisfy both the most fervent golf fan and the casual observer.

    Structured as a behind-the-scenes look at the life and luxury of professional golfers, it offers plenty of access to fascinating narratives that allow a deeper dive on the sport and players for enthusiasts, but there’s enough drama and universal themes at play for the reality TV fan.

    What heightens the series is that executive producer Chad Mumm and his team at Vox Media Studios picked “one hell of a year” — as pro golfer Ian Poulter put it — to document the inner workings of professional golf. Last year saw the rise of the rival and controversial LIV series golf tour and created one of the most tumultuous seasons of the PGA Tour in history.

    Mumm, who is the Chief Creative Officer at Vox Media Studios, tells Wisconsin Public Radio’s “BETA” the fortuitous timing was actually years in the making. He had made annual pitches to PGA brass during golf outings at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

    “We would go out and talk about a bunch of ideas and how we could work together,” he says. “But this was always at the top of my list: We should do a doc series immersive inside the PGA Tour. And every year they would say, ‘That sounds awesome, but we’re not quite ready yet.’”

    Things changed in 2019. Mumm chalks some of that up to new leadership. Jay Monahan had recently become commissioner of the PGA Tour and was open to exploring new ways of reaching new audiences.

    “I find myself in Las Vegas. We play golf again, and I brought it back up on the first hole and by the 18th hole we sorted out what would eventually become ‘Full Swing,’” Mumm says.

    Fast-forward to 2022 and Mumm’s team was signing on several major players to follow. Embedded in his pitch was Mumm’s philosophy and approach for the series.

    “We wanted it to be authentic and we had said it has to be real. It has to be warts and all,” he explains.

    One of the biggest storylines of the past year was the launch of the rival LIV Golf tour. Backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, LIV raised eyebrows with the exorbitant contracts they were offering players to join.

    LIV also surfaced debates on whether that money was worth it to help a nation “sportswash” it’s checkered past. Mumm’s teams were granted access to several players who wrestled with a decision to accept the invitation.

    It was like the whole world got flipped upside down in one minute. All of a sudden, you have this camaraderie that exists on the PGA Tour, this kind of traveling circus, and here we are — like now all of a sudden, there’s this division,” he says.

    “It’s unprecedented in sports, as far as I can tell, where you have something like this happen like during the season,” Mumm continues. “It wasn’t in the offseason. It wasn’t when players were all at home. They were all together in the…same locker room, looking at each other now with like a new kind of decision to make.”

    The production team hadn’t planned on the LIV launch while prepping for the year. But since they already had access to several pro golfers who happened to be contemplating a move to the Saudi tour, they approached it as an opportunity to step out of the way and record history.

    “What we wanted to do is really let the players tell their side of the story, whether they stay or go. And we were able to have a lot of access to be able to see those decisions come to fruition,” says Mumm. “Let the players, you know, bring us into their world. If it was important to them, it was going to be important to us.”

    Besides having an inside track on the biggest story concerning golf this past season, “Full Swing” was fortunate to have access to several players who ended up winning some of golf’s biggest tournaments.

    Justin Thomas and Matthew Fitzpatrick both allowed cameras behind the scenes in their camps as they competed for major wins in the PGA Championship and US Open respectively. But, what might be equally dramatic is the moments with tour players who are grinding things out.

    “The difference between a player in the top 10 in the world and a top 100 ranked player is like one shot a round. So, you realize that the margin for error out here is so razor-thin,” says Mumm. “Our mission for the show is to try and understand what is the difference. You know, what gives those players that extra edge.”

    It’s in those episodes where the series finds some emotional punch. One episode that works to demonstrate the caddy/player relationship unfolds into a moving treatise on lifelong friendship after loss.

    It follows tour pro and class clown, Joel Dahmen, and his caddy as they grind out a US Open spot. As the episode unfolds, there’s heartfelt loss and love beneath the goofball exterior of Dahmen and his caddy.

    “It’s expensive to play and travel in pro golf. And if you’re not making cuts, you’re not making money or you’re walking away in the red every week. And so, we wanted to get a sense of what that feeling was like. And, you know, we really got to see that through Joel.”

    Another episode follows two of golf’s non-white superstars and contrasts their drastically different approaches to the game while linking their passion directly back to Tiger Woods and the representation he offered that sparked their journeys.

    From left, Tony Finau, Alayna Finau and Sienna-Vee Finau in Full Swing
    Still from “Full Swing.” From left: Tony Finau, Alayna Finau and Sienna-Vee Finau. Photo courtesy of Netflix 

    Two-time major winner Collin Morikawa approaches the game with a fierce dedication and a zealous perfectionism. Meanwhile, his fellow pro, Tony Finau, surprised many on tour when insisting his entire family travel with him. He was warned that the grueling schedule wouldn’t allow for both family and focusing on winning. He proved doubters wrong by winning back-to-back tournaments.

    “Tony’s story is one that I found to be so inspiring because of his background and everything that he’s gone through and to be both a great father and also a competitor that can win twice in a row, it’s just it’s super inspiring.”

    The saga between LIV and the PGA concludes the series with a profile on Rory McIlroy. The one-time wunderkind has turned into the unofficial face and captain of the PGA. He was a vocal leader in a player’s only meeting last year that promised new efforts to retain players and to heighten competition on the PGA Tour.

    Rory McIlroy in
    Rory McIlroy in “Full Swing.” Photo courtesy of Netflix

    Mumm says that he isn’t surprised that Rory became the face of the PGA. “Full Swing” captures a lot of frank and candid footage of Rory’s locker room conversations with fellow players as he looked to stem player defections to rival LIV.

    “Rory certainly has given us no indication that he is not anything but his true self in every interaction that we have with him. And he is polished and as accomplished as a player he is I think he’s even more impressive as a person and as a thoughtful leader,” says Mumm.

    “It was fun to see inside his world a bit and just to see the relationships he has with these other great players.”

    “Full Swing” is streaming on Netflix.

  • Gabrielle Zevin's 'Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow' explores life, love and video games

    If you’ve checked out any of the best novels of 2022 lists, you’ve probably come across Gabrielle Zevin’s “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow.” As NPR’s “Fresh Air” book critic Maureen Corrigan says: “It’s a big, beautifully written novel about an underexplored topic, that succeeds in being both serious art and immersive entertainment.”

    Zevin has written a fascinating novel about two friends who collaborate on designing video games. These games are so imaginative and innovative that you will wish you could actually play them.

    The genius of “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” is that it’s not just about video games. Zevin also explores identity, disability, failure and our need to connect with our fellow humans.

    “It never occurred to me to write about video games before,” Zevin told Wisconsin Public Radio’s “BETA.”

    “Gaming had been some of my seminal storytelling experiences, and they had really kind of determined even parts of the ways I wrote novels, and yet I had never addressed it. And I think this is not actually an experience unique to me because, you know, I was born in 1977, which puts me squarely in the Oregon Trail generation, the generation that is either like a young Gen X-er or an old millennial.”

    Zevin explained that the first generation of people who played video games when they were children are now in their 40s and 50s.

    “And I thought this was worth thinking about: How would your life have been changed if you had consumed videogames for your whole life? How does that change your experience of even, you know, mortality, relationships and everything else?” Zevin said.

    One of the most fascinating things about “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” is that although it is mainly about video games, Zevin is able to include a lot of other interesting themes.

    “A great subject for a book is like a great big bowl and it attracts many other subjects to it and it fits many things inside of it,” Zevin said.

    She says that she knew when she started creating the novel that video games were a great subject because the whole world can be contained within the discussion of video games.

    I believe that you can write about anything and find a shadow history of, say, what it is to be a person or an artist in a certain period of years. So I could tell you about the history of bread making or the history of furniture making or the history of anything,” she explained. “And you would learn something about what it was like to be a person by experiencing that time through the lens of whatever thing you’re talking about.”

    But Zevin didn’t know all these layers, themes and lenses would end up in a novel. She said the hardest part of writing a novel isn’t coming up with an idea, but rather choosing which ideas to go with.

    “But with this book, I didn’t know. I never know. And I think that’s part of the joy of writing a novel,” Zevin said.

    cover of Gabrielle Zevin's novel,
    Cover of Gabrielle Zevin’s novel, “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow.” Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York/Jacket design by John Gall

    The two main characters in the novel are Sam Mazer and Sadie Greene. Sam lost his mother in a car accident and seriously injured his foot at a very young age. Zevin believes that the aftermath of the accident determines a lot about why he plays video games and the way he relates to people.

    “My thing that I share with Sam is that we’re both half Jewish and half Korean, and it’s the first time I’d ever given somebody my ethnic identity. And so a lot of Sam’s experiences around race — though not all of his thoughts about it, but some of his experiences — are mine,” Zevin said.

    Zevin was raised in a town with a population that was about 66 percent Jewish. Because of that, she said, she identified a lot with that part of her, but didn’t understand much about her Asian identity. She recalls becoming aware of new things when she traveled to Asia in her 20s.

    “I might have felt more Asian in a sense,” Zevin said. “And so these are some things that Sam experiences.”

    The other character, Sadie Green, is a video game designer. Her sister has cancer throughout her childhood, which “always makes her think about mortality a lot. And that’s one of the reasons she is drawn to video games,” Zevin said.

    Sadie’s experiences pull from Zevin’s when it comes to navigating male-dominated professions like video game design and writing novels.

    The first video game that Sam and Sadie create is called “Ichigo: A Child of the Sea.”

    “‘Ichigo’ is about a child who is caught up in a tsunami and ends up far away from home. But he doesn’t have language and he doesn’t even know his first name. So the story is how a kid manages to get home,” Zevin explained.

    Is there any chance that these captivating video games that Sam and Sadie create — with more than a little help from Zevin — could become a reality?

    Zevin believes it’s possible.

    But video game development is slow. Novel writing is fast. And so I had no burden to actually worry about whether these would actually be hits, be fun, be technically possible. And especially because a lot of the video games that I describe, I tied them to particular technologies that would make them make sense for that time,” she said.

    But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Zevin’s publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, has made “Emily Blaster” which can be played on Zevin’s website.

    In “Emily Blaster,” the player shoots the words of an Emily Dickinson poem in the correct order to construct the poem.

    Temple Hill Entertainment and Paramount Pictures have bought the rights to “Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow.” Zevin is currently working on the screenplay adaptation.

    “I think we almost have gotten to something pretty good. And there’s still part of me that worries that you’ll end up missing so many things from the book in a movie,” she said. “But I’m hoping that we get to a place that really captures the experience of this core relationship of these two people that are better at work than they are at life.”

  • New details about Waco tragedy revealed in former investigative journalist's recent book

    Jeff Guinn has established a reputation as one of the great writers of non-fiction Americana. His bestselling books include “Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie & Clyde,” “Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson” and “The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple.”

    Guinn’s latest book is “Waco: David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and a Legacy of Rage.”

    He used his experience as a former investigative journalist to write what is probably the definitive account of the 51-day standoff between residents of a religious compound and federal agents that ended in the loss of dozens of lives. The book features never-before-seen documents, photographs and interviews.

    Guinn’s meticulous research changes the perception of what really happened in Waco, Texas, in 1993.

    This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

    Doug Gordon: How did David Koresh become the leader of the Branch Davidians?

    Jeff Guinn: By all accounts, including surviving Branch Davidians, it was a huge surprise. He came to Mount Carmel as a fairly inarticulate 21-year-old. But he soon paired up with Lois Roden, who was at the time the leader of the Branch Davidians. Lois, who is in her early 60s, thought that the end was coming, that everyone had to prepare, that only her followers really interpreted the Bible correctly. They had to try to send the message.

    But she took David Koresh first as her protégé and then as her lover. And gradually he assumed leadership of the Branch Davidians from her. So it was a progression, but it was a shocking progression to most of the other Branch Davidians.

    We didn’t see much potential in Koresh until Lois Roden presented him as someone who could be a great teacher for them.

    DG: In 1986, Koresh announced that God needed him to take an additional wife or many wives. How did his followers react?

    JG: Koresh always would mention things like new light, and he would say that what he had prophesied previously now had been replaced because God had given him additional information. He told his followers that based on his readings, his interpretation of the King James Bible — which, by the way, were always assumed to be the only correct interpretation — God meant for him to have more than one wife.

    They were stunned. And most particularly stunned was Koresh’s 16-year-old wife, Rachel, who adamantly opposed this until she said that God came to her in a dream and said David was right. At first, everyone thought he would take just one more wife.

    But then Koresh announced an additional new light that he needed to take wives. Many of them because now he interpreted from the Book of Revelation that the Lamb would spread his seed, have children, and that there would be 24 elders who would help the lamb rule the new Kingdom of God after the end times. Thus, 24 would have to be his children. Therefore, he had to impregnate a lot of women.

    DG: One of many discoveries you made while researching your book is that David Koresh plagiarized his End Times prophecies. Can you tell us about that?

    Cyrus R. Teed. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    JG: This was absolutely stunning to me. It was an absolute revelation. It turns out that David Koresh was not the original Koresh claiming to be the Lamb, the prophet, the one who was going to read the Seven Seals and bring the End Times. That honor belonged to a man from New York named Cyrus Teed who was a physician in upstate New York — and who gained many, many followers, thousands of them, by claiming he’d been raised up to heaven, where he’d been informed he was the spirit reincarnation of King Cyrus from the Old Testament.

    And Cyrus in Hebrew is pronounced “Koresh.” So Cyrus Teed took the name Koresh and moved his followers to a compound just outside Fort Myers, Florida, in the late 1880s. And proclaimed in his newsletter sent out to the world that he was the Lamb of Revelation. He was going to open the Seven Seals. He was going to do all the things that quite a few years later, David Koresh claimed he was going to do. The original Koresh died in 1908 with his followers expecting him to return to life and bring about all his prophecies. That didn’t happen.

    DG: The Waco siege started on Feb. 28, 1993, and you were able to talk to more than a dozen former ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) agents who were involved. What did you learn from them?

    JG: Nobody had ever really gotten into what ATF did that day and why they did it. The agents who participated in the first raid — there were 76 of them. Four would die. Another 20 would be severely wounded that day.

    The agents were not told anything about what the Branch Davidians believed, that Koresh was prophesying: Mount Carmel would be attacked by the agent of Babylon, which of course would match, at least to the Branch Davidians’ minds, what the ATF was going to do.

    They were simply told there was a religious zealot and his sheep, like followers living in this big hovel — that they had a lot of illegal guns that they were probably going to use on innocent citizens if there wasn’t an intervention.

    And so they staged a raid with absolutely no knowledge that what they were doing would convince Koresh’s followers that Koresh’s prophesies (were) true. The agents were also promised that the raid would only go forward if they had the element of surprise.

    They believed, based on what they’d been told by Branch Davidian defectors, that all the guns at Mount Carmel were locked away and could only be handed out with Koresh’s permission if they could get the drop on the Branch Davidians. No one would be armed.

    As it turned out, Koresh had already given guns to all his followers. They had them in their rooms in this huge building with 360-degree views of the land around them, and ATF walked into a firetrap.

    DG: In the aftermath of the Waco tragedy, some people blamed Koresh and the Branch Davidians, while others blamed the FBI. Who do you believe is more at fault?

    JG: There are no heroes in this story. You have three entities — ATF, FBI and the Branch Davidians. None of them chose or even really tried to understand what the others believed, what the others wanted. There was never any clear communication for that.

    And because of that, it’s happened for 30 years since, that people have simply taken one side or the other, seen plots, seen Satanic forces at work or government conspiracies.

    And again, for that reason, Waco, Mount Carmel has really been the launchpad for a lot of violence and anti-government or anti-religion acts since starting with the Oklahoma City bombing two years after the Waco fire. Timothy McVeigh said clearly he did that to get revenge for the innocent people who died at Mount Carmel.

    Most of the current leaders in things we would consider to be militant militia or else otherwise conspiracy-minded — from Alex Jones to the founders of Oath Keepers — they all cut their teeth on Waco and the protests there, and their references to it go all the way up to Jan. 6, 2021.

    Waco has become an excuse for not only paranoia about the American government, but threats and occasionally violent actions towards the American government.

Episode Credits

  • Doug Gordon Host
  • Adam Friedrich Producer
  • Steve Gotcher Producer
  • Steve Gotcher Technical Director
  • Chad Mumm Guest
  • Gabrielle Zevin Guest
  • Jeff Guinn Guest

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