Las Vegas loves a show, so the week Formula 1 comes to town there was an unholy mix of golf and F1, with sport as entertainment writ large and with the emphasis on entertainment.
The streaming platform Netflix organized an unlikely tournament: “So we have the F1 series and the golf series, right? Well, how about putting the two together in our first-ever live sports broadcast,” is perhaps how the field played out – on the Wynn Casino golf course overlooking the track that will host the Las Vegas Grand Prix on Saturday.
Netflix has been making gangbusters of its F1 series Drive to survive and the sport has also benefited from the exposure, especially in the United States. The golf series Full swing has also been well received, not least among the young generation of F1 drivers who love nothing more than hitting the fairways and greens when they are relieved of their team duties. This was an opportunity to connect the talent of the two disciplines.
Alex Albon and Max Homa played two four-ball matches, once again taking on Pierre Gasly and Tony Finau, while Lando Norris and Rickie Fowler took on Carlos Sainz and Justin Thomas. They played eight holes, with the two winning combinations then going head-to-head for the Netflix Cup (literally, a large cup with ‘Netflix’ written on it) in a closest-to-the-pin shoot-off.
All four drivers have made their love for golf clear. Norris and Sainz will happily change the subject to golf if given half the chance.
When asked if he would like to give something back and visit an F1 car from Finau, one of the stars of Full swing, grinning: “Our sport is much less dangerous. If you make a mistake driving a car, you may not survive. “We might get a big blister,” Thomas added.
They hit their first shots and Royal & Ancient enthusiasts should now look the other way and then jump into golf karts to race each other on a track painted from the fairway to the green. It all had an air of it Crazy breeds until Finau flushed a 15-footer to win it as everyone else gathered around him.
For the remaining holes, more typical play resumed and it was noticeable how the fiercely competitive F1 drivers really gave it their all. Includes the fifth, a 150-yard, par 3. With added squid play. The iconic puppet from the series stood on the tee, flanked by a phalanx of the show’s pink-clad, baton-wielding security guards.
The players were assessed a penalty if the doll’s head turned towards them before they shot. Norris had to try several times and Gasly headed his shot straight into the lake. It was more fun than any F1 sprint race this season and would be a welcome replacement for the format.
In the background, the entertainment venue The Sphere displayed gigantic likenesses of the players: “Team Lando Norris and Rickie Fowler,” digital behemoths looming over their puny human equivalents. Hip-hop sounded in the background from a bar with a DJ on the 4th tee. Former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch was seemingly everywhere, hosting, interviewing and hammering it out for the crowd.
As the sun set and the floodlights illuminated the final gap for the play-off between Sainz and Thomas and Gasly and Finau, they threw a pair of giant dice down the hill to decide who would shoot first. It won’t catch on at The Open, but it made perfect sense in Las Vegas.
Thomas came out on top to share a champagne moment with partner Sainz. No one really cared, it was never about the outcome, but maybe something more. It’s hard not to believe that there are now a number of golf fans who will be watching F1 for the first time this weekend and that there are also F1 fans who will consider golf spoiled for more than a good walk in the future.