Netflix’s 'Full Swing' Producer Chad Mumm on LIV Golf, Tiger Woods, and Finding Your Creative Moat
Mumm gives us an in-depth look into what it takes to capture the compelling and wildly controversial side of pro golf.
A note from Polina: I’m excited to share this interview with Chad Mumm, the executive producer behind the hit docu-series, “Full Swing.” He was interviewed by Simran Bhatia, a staff writer for The Profile. I hope you enjoy it.
Chad Mumm had a front row seat to one of pro golf’s most controversial years to date.
As the executive producer behind Netflix’s hit series “Full Swing,” Mumm found himself with “an unprecedented controversy” on his hands. His show was originally supposed to be a compelling look inside the lives of professional golfers — until something unexpected happened.
The world of golf had a new entrant: LIV Golf, a pro golf tournament financed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. It’s marketed as “an alternative to the PGA Tour” and one of its slogans is “Golf, but louder.” LIV Golf has been heavily criticized for being a money and talent grab.
When Mumm saw what was happening, his first reaction was, “This is going to ruin our show.” He was worried about losing access to players, navigating a web of lawsuits, and getting players to honestly speak about what was going on in their sport.
None of those worries materialized, however. In an interview with The Profile, Mumm says he very quickly realized that this may not be great for the sport, but it was electric for crafting a compelling story. “Certainly, I would argue it's probably created a lot of ugliness in general around the sport,” he says, “but from a narrative perspective, it gave an urgency to everybody's story.”
And Mumm knows a good story when he sees one. He has made a successful career out of producing educational docu-series and reality shows. He’s won an Emmy Award, made the Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ list. But if you ask Mumm what his one true passion is, the self-described military brat would tell you it’s always been golf – and it took him almost 10 years to get the rights to produce a show about it.
After studying film and television production at the University of Georgia, Mumm went into show production after graduation and helped build Vox Media Studios in 2011. He quickly established himself as a top TV and film producer, finding success in documentaries, educational shows, and partnering with Michelle Obama on a film which won an Emmy Award in 2021.
Eventually, Mumm found himself playing golf with top executive producers in Hollywood. For almost a decade, he would step onto the greens each year and pitch the concept of what is now “Full Swing” — a behind the scenes show about professional golfers.
The PGA tour and streaming platforms wouldn’t buy in, until a “once in a lifetime show” came along: “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” (check out our interview with the director here).
According to Mumm, the combination of COVID-19 quarantine coinciding with the second season release of “Drive to Survive” made producers and players take his pitch seriously. He credits Rickie Fowler as the first PGA professional to sign onto the show, prompting other players to follow.
Here’s what Mumm had to say about the inception of “Full Swing,” the LIV Golf controversy, and his creative process for creating hit TV shows.
This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity and length. (Below is an excerpt of the interview, but I encourage you to listen and watch the full interview below.)
Did you feel like you needed access to Tiger Woods for “Full Swing” to be successful?
MUMM: I don't think you need Tiger to make a show like this successful. I also think there's a risk with [having] Tiger, that he would become the whole show because he is such a monolith. And Tiger is one of the most interesting sporting figures in history.
There's nobody like Tiger, I would put him up with Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Secretariat and that’s pretty much it. The risk of having someone like Tiger is him overpowering all these other stories. What was really interesting is Tiger has really become a father figure for a lot of these players. Tony Finau, Collin Morikawa, they're playing golf because of Tiger.
When we started making the show, the first thing we did was we brought in a bunch of players. And we did 12 interviews in two days. We were down at Tiger’s event in the Bahamas, and there's a recording studio right next to the golf course.
We did our first interviews, and every single one of them — the first thing they said, “The reason why I play golf is because of Tiger.” And we didn't prompt them to say that. It was like, “Hey, how did you get into golf?” “Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods” ... So even though he's not interviewed, I think you feel him.
There has been a hot controversy in golf for over two years now about a new golf league joining called LIV Golf. It has 12 teams, 48 players, and it's supposed to be the more action-packed version of golf. Is Netflix or Vox neutral in the debate between LIV Golf and the PGA?
Well, we had no idea [LIV Golf] was coming. It’s hard to talk about season one without talking about the rise of LIV Golf.
We had 28 players signed up for season one, we were filming with them all year, we had gotten deep access, and a handful of those players left in the middle of the season to go to LIV Golf.
What we had told the tour and those players is that if it's important to you, it's important to us, we're not going to take sides, we're going to tell your story with authenticity … so we didn't take sides.
Our first thought was, ‘This is going to ruin our show because we're going to lose access to people because they're going to leave. There's all kinds of lawsuits, everyone's going to clam up, nobody's gonna want to talk about this.’ That was a short-lived feeling.
It became very obvious that now we have this unprecedented controversy. It was very wild. Very quickly we realized, maybe this is good for us and not good for golf.
Certainly, I would argue it's probably created a lot of ugliness in general around the sport, but from a narrative perspective, it gave an urgency to everybody's story. And all of a sudden, you inject this really critical question: ‘What are you here for? Are you here for legacy? Are you trying to win golf tournaments? Are you trying to write golf history? Or is this a job to you? And are you comfortable with certain of the moral questions that arise around the source of this funding of this league?’
Is there a plan for “Full Swing” to start tracking female golf professionals in future seasons?
I would love to do that. The women professionals are unbelievably good. There's a [sexist and misogynistic] undercurrent of “golf bros” on Twitter who think they could go beat women. But [women players] are so good. It's unbelievable. If you ask some of these PGA Tour players, they know that there are women out there that are better than they are.
If you ever get a chance to go to a women's event, an LPGA Tour event, you should because it's mind blowing how precise and how good they are. I think that there is an inherent challenge that's different in professional golf than in tennis, and that’s that there are no shared events.
There's been some attempts to do it — there's an event in the Australian Open which is a mixed event. That's one event the whole year. There’s going to be a new event this year at the end of season called the Grant Thornton Invitational that's going to pair up a PGA Tour player with an LPGA Tour player.
We hope to highlight that as a way to introduce women into the sport. From a production standpoint, it would be really hard to weave the LPGA into “Full Swing”, because you would essentially have to double the size of the production budget, we would have to be at two events every weekend instead of one. We’d be in totally different cities on totally different schedules. It’s my hope in season two to introduce some of the women players, but I think it deserves to be its own show.
You've had this vision of what the show should look like for more than 9 years. As the Chief Creative Officer at Vox Media Studios, how do you rally your team around your vision? And what does that creative process look like?
You have to believe in it. I think we've had 50+ series that we've premiered in the last five to six years. And every one of those shows, whether it's me, or it's one of my execs on my team, we believe in it to our core.
Making a television show or a film is really difficult work. It doesn't matter the budget, a $15 million show is just as difficult as a $1 million show. The good news is we don't have to sell 1,000 television shows to have a really good business. That means we can really bet on stuff that we believe in.
We've got to have a champion, we've got to have someone who lives and breathes it and there's a drive beyond just the financial component. You're not going to rest until it's out. I learned something really early in my career from Ezra Klein who was my partner on the “Explained” series.
I describe his [creative process] as: it just falls out of him. He can't help himself. It just flows. It takes a lot of work, but it just falls out of him. And for me, [“Full Swing”] fell out of me because this is my passion — it had to exist.
That's why I fought for nine years to make it. People want to be on a team that has a mission. And if the leader of that team believes in it with all their heart and is going to make those sacrifices to make it real, that’s fun work. That's why we're not accountants.
Correction: A previous version of this article inaccurately stated that Mumm founded Vox Media Studios. Mumm worked at Vox Creative and helped build the studio with Vox Media President Marty Moe.