Netflix Cup brings together stars from F1, golf for fun competition
5 Min Read
Written by Michael LoRé
LAS VEGAS - Rickie Fowler started riding dirt bikes when he was 3 years old, but eventually had to throttle his motocross aspirations after breaking his leg in three places at the age of 15. His golf career was too promising to undertake such a risky endeavor.
He still gets on the track from time to time, admitting that he’s reached upwards of 170 mph on his bike. The same mentality required to travel at those high speeds has served the six-time PGA TOUR winner well in his current vocation, in which he moves at a slightly slower pace.
“I spend a decent amount of time on the track and save my fast driving for there,” Fowler said. “I still have fun on the road but nothing too crazy.”
While Fowler is a professional golfer who loves to drive fast in his spare time, Carlos Sainz is a professional Formula 1 driver who loves to play golf when he’s not on the track. The game gives him an opportunity to slow down and unwind from the stresses of his day job. The Scuderia Ferrari driver boasts a nine handicap and typically hits the links with his father and friends.
“I love golf,” Sainz said. “Anything that involves a golf ball and golf club, I’m in. I’m a big fan of this sport.”
Justin Thomas' excellent tee shot secures the victory at The Netflix Cup
So it’s no surprise Fowler and Sainz were quick to heed the call when asked to participate in the first-ever Netflix Cup, a crossover event featuring PGA TOUR players and F1 drivers competing in an eight-hole scramble on Tuesday at Wynn Golf Club in Las Vegas ahead of the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix. The event brought together athletes from one of the world’s fastest sports to one that requires a more methodical pace.
Donning his trademark orange with black accents and his old racing number (15) on his hat, Fowler teamed up with McLaren’s Lando Norris against Sainz and Justin Thomas. The other matchup featured Max Homa and Alex Albon of Williams Racing against Tony Finau, a last-minute replacement for an injured Collin Morikawa, and BWT Alpine’s Pierre Gasly. Both Thomas and Homa made the commute from South Africa, where they competed in the Nedbank Golf Challenge on Sunday, to Las Vegas.
The golfers and drivers share a mutual respect, which was evident during Tuesday’s event, the first live sports event streamed on Netflix. Miles per hour is a crucial measurement in both endeavors and the athletes from each sport marvel at the speeds the other is able to generate, whether with a car or a club. The event also brought together athletes from two of Netflix’s most popular sports docuseries, the F1-focused “Drive to Survive” and golf’s version that debuted in 2023, "Full Swing."
“Obviously it’s a first for us but it does just feel like a natural extension to the sports momentum we’ve been building over the last many years and to have huge successes with series like ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive’ and ‘Full Swing,’ this feels like it’s just born out of that,” said Gabe Spitzer, Netflix’s vice president of nonfiction sports.
The teams of Thomas/Sainz and Finau/Gasly won their respective matches, facing off in a closest-to-the-pin contest that Thomas and Sainz won to take home the inaugural cup.
Similarly to other made-for-TV golf events, the Netflix Cup took Tuesday’s competition one step further by tweaking the rules a bit to appeal to casual and diehard fans alike.
The event began like an F1 race, with a “lights out” start as all four participants teed off on the par-3 at the same time. From there, they ran to their golf carts and raced down a makeshift track to the green. Not only would the fastest team earn an early advantage, but it would be able to pocket a vital tiebreaker should it be necessary later on.
Another popular Netflix show, “Squid Games,” was the theme for the par-3 fifth hole. Participants played a game of “red light/green light” as they teed off, hoping to avoid the ominous glare of the Squid Game doll and an ensuing penalty.
The event was about more than just the competition, though, providing a closer look at the athletes. Instead of the traditional voices you’re accustomed to hearing on golf broadcasts, the commentary was provided by comedian Bert Kreischer, TOUR player Joel Dahmen, sportscaster Kay Adams and retired NFL star Marshawn Lynch. McLaren CEO Zak Brown, actor Mark Wahlberg and the injured Morikawa made cameos on the broadcast.
“I think the crossover hopefully is that a lot of the F1 fans respect golf and maybe we start to get more of an F1 following from this just because their favorite drivers love golf and play golf,” Finau said. “I know the ‘Drive to Survive’ series was amazing for F1 and I think ‘Full Swing’ has been great for us as well and hopefully this just continues to piggyback on the game of golf moving forward.”
Tee shots aimed at the Sphere at The Netflix Cup
While the event was just another day at the office for the TOUR players who are accustomed to the galleries and TV cameras watching their every swing from up close. It was a new experience for the F1 drivers, however, who admitted they were both excited and anxious to showcase their golfing abilities.
“Between us drivers, we’ve been talking and we were super excited about this event,” Gasly said. “Personally, I underestimated how big this whole thing was going to be. The location is fabulous with The Sphere in the background. I’ve never had a chance to play at such a course—usually, there’s a couple of animals here and there walking around on the course but today is a different story.
“I’m very proud and honored to play with these guys and have that proximity and get a lot of tips and learn from their game.”
While a date for the second annual Netflix Cup is still to be determined, it’s safe to assume that the roles won’t be reversed where TOUR players would have to suit up, strap in and speed down a track at 200 mph like their F1 counterparts and teammates. Though if that was the case, Fowler would most likely be the first to sign up.
“They’re not going to let us get in an F1 car—at least not a current one,” he said, “but it would be fun to do a golf morning followed by a track afternoon kind of swap.”