Most golf fans aren’t familiar with the names Chad Mumm and Paul Martin. Neither has played in a professional golf tournament. Neither has appeared on a national golf broadcast. Hell, Martin hadn’t even attended a PGA Tour event until September 2021. Yet both men could become important figures in golf in the coming years.
Last week, Netflix confirmed its long-rumored documentary series on the PGA Tour and released a list of participating players. Among the executive producers are Chad Mumm of Vox Media and Paul Martin of Box to Box Films. Mumm, a known golf sicko, was the original pitchman for the idea, and Martin is an executive producer of Drive to Survive, a popular Netflix docuseries on Formula 1. With this creative team behind it, the show has the potential to be unlike anything we’ve seen from the modern PGA Tour.
To take full advantage of the opportunity, though, the Tour is going to need to step up its game.
Check out Paul Martin and Chad Mumm’s recent appearance on The Shotgun Start:
“People just think golfers are a bit boring,” Paul Martin said when he and Chad Mumm appeared on the Shotgun Start podcast last Friday. “[But] these guys have a bit of swagger about them…. Not only do I want to make this show, but I’d love to go for a beer with Brooks Koepka. I’d love to go for a beer with Tony [Finau]. Well, I don’t know if Tony drinks, but you [get the point].”
Whether golfers are cool is a debate for another day, but Martin’s enthusiasm for the project is clear. Indeed, his support has been crucial in getting the series off the ground. “Once Paul and James [Gay-Rees] got involved, and once Vox got involved, that made the player conversations a lot easier,” Mumm told The Shotgun Start. “A lot of the players are fans of [Drive to Survive]. Some of the drivers in Formula 1 have friendships with the tour players, and so they all started talking and momentum started building.”
Over its first three seasons, Drive to Survive has captured a massive audience. More than 50 million people have watched the F1 series, according to an October Business Insider report—and that number includes at least a few PGA Tour pros. “Chad and I had a Zoom [meeting] with Brooks Koepka before Christmas and he came on and said, ‘Yeah, I watched [Drive to Survive] and I think it’s great,’” Martin said. “I came off and said to my wife, ‘Oh my God, Brooks Koepka has watched Drive to Survive. That’s brilliant!’”
For the broader sports world, the most intriguing aspect of the Drive to Survive phenomenon has been its impact on Formula 1’s bottom line. The show is likely a major contributor to the 41% jump in F1 viewership since 2019 in the United States. “I think it’s got to be the single most important impact for Formula 1 in North America,” McLaren Racing chief executive Zak Brown told the New York Times. “People are going from ‘I’ve never watched a Formula 1 race in my life’ to ‘I’ll never miss a Formula 1 race again.’”
Will these new viewers become lifelong fans? We won’t know for a while. But at the moment, many are taking the first step of tuning in.
I miss F1
— BUM CHILLUPS AKA SPENCER HALL (@edsbs) January 16, 2022
A key to Drive to Survive’s success has been its commitment to the most basic element of good storytelling: character development. “For a long time, I think sports tried to kind of take the character away [from athletes],” Martin said. “And what I think Drive to Survive did was put the character back at the heart of sport.”
Embracing personality—true personality, with positive as well as negative traits—would be a major change of pace for men’s professional golf. The PGA Tour’s habit of whitewashing player misdeeds, from Patrick Reed’s (*ahem*) “rules incidents” to Jon Rahm’s mistreatment of his caddie at TPC Sawgrass, has long baffled and frustrated fans.
So there is justifiable concern that the PGA Tour will get in the way of the Netflix team’s pursuit of authentic character development. Yes, the producers as well as a tour spokesperson have insisted that Ponte Vedra does not have editorial control, but we don’t yet know how open the players will be with the documentarians or how transparent the Tour will be about its involvement.
But the hope is that the series will be a catalyst for an attitude shift in PGA Tour HQ. “I think the PGA Tour has realized that audiences are a bit smarter than [the Tour] gives them credit for,” Mumm said. “They see through the controlling hand and the narrative that [they’re] being force-fed rather than the authenticity.”
If the Tour’s C-suite comes to that realization, maybe it will also grow more aware of fan feedback to its broadcasts. A big reason Drive to Survive has created so many Formula 1 tragics is that the transition from the series to the live television product is relatively seamless. F1 telecasts are exciting, passionately commentated, commercial-free (!), and full of sound bites from mic’d-up drivers and team members.
The PGA Tour has a long way to go to replicate this kind of viewer experience. Say fans of the future docuseries tune in on a Saturday afternoon in July and find a bunch of stone-faced UGA grads vying silently for the 3M Open at TPC Sod Farm. Are they going to stick around? Or just see what’s next on the Netflix queue?
Just as there’s reason to worry that the Tour will fumble this opportunity, there’s also reason to hope that the docuseries will jolt Ponte Vedra into a more fan-friendly stance. Following the Drive to Survive playbook could have an enormously positive impact on both the PGA Tour and golf as a whole. If this series is well executed, it will appeal to casuals and diehards alike, giving the former a place to start and the latter a rare look under the hood. Whether the PGA Tour’s core TV product will rise to the challenge remains to be seen, but we’ll cross that moat when we get to it.