Shoe time: Comfort, proper sizing make big difference when selecting golf footwear

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Shoe time: Comfort, proper sizing make big difference when selecting golf footwear

Equipment

Shoe time: Comfort, proper sizing make big difference when selecting golf footwear

If you pop out of bed early Saturday morning and run in a local 10K race, you are going to want a pair of running shoes that are lightweight and provide lots of cushioning to make your 6.2-mile jaunt more comfortable. If the race is on a trail and you will run on grass, dirt and wet leaves while traversing hills, you need plenty of ground-gripping traction, too. Add plenty of lateral support, so you can shift your weight from side to side and change directions safely.

Instead of taking that run, if you played golf and hit every shot on a 6,500-yard course down the middle on every hole, you would walk 3.69 miles. In reality, your stroll is going to be longer because you are going to miss fairways, hit approach shots that miss greens, stand and walk while waiting your turn to putt, then get yourself from one hole to the next.

A typical round of golf can easily cover five to six miles, so instead of picking your next pair of golf shoes based on how they look on the pro shop wall, start thinking about your footwear as equipment.

“When you are walking, you just want the linear comfort, and you’re walking 99 percent of the time when you play golf, so we put a lot of thought into that and hope that you don’t notice your shoes,” said Grant Knudson, the global head of footwear and accessories for Cobra Puma Golf. “The last thing you want to do, especially when you are walking, is notice your feet. It should be equipment that seamlessly interacts with your game without you noticing.”

Grant Knudson, the global head of footwear and accessories for Cobra Puma Golf, hopes “you don’t notice your shoes” while playing golf.

The elements that make a golf shoe comfortable for walking are adequate cushioning under the heel and forefoot, and a design that encourages the foot to naturally roll forward into the next stride. The forefoot of the shoe should bend with the toes. Pick up a shoe and hold it firmly around the heel, then press the front of the shoe backward – it should bend in the area where the ball of the foot will be. If it bends too far forward or too far back, it probably will not be comfortable when walking.

“Comfort is king,” said Lafe Christopherson, vice president of footwear design for Skechers. “At the end of the day, if you can’t wait to get off the course, it is affecting your next shot because you’re thinking about that instead of the shot. You should be able to think, ‘Hey, I could drive home in these.’”

Finding the ideal size can be tricky, because not only do many people have different sized feet, about 65 percent have feet that are at least a half-size different, said Matt Plumb, Nike’s product line manager for golf footwear. Plus, over the course of a round the feet will expand and flatten.

“People pick a fit, and either pick a shoe that is a little snug in their larger foot because it matches the size of their smaller foot or vice versa,” Plumb said. “Even our master last maker tells us that he cannot predict a person’s size, even after he measures their feet, because it is up to personal preference and how you want to wear your shoes.”

For most players, a half-size difference in foot size is not a problem, and they will opt for the slightly larger size instead of knowingly putting their foot inside a shoe that is too tight. FootJoy’s Richard Fryer, the company’s director of footwear product management, said that for golfers who have a more significant difference in the size of their feet, his company has a solution.

“People think of MyJoys and then think about guys like Ian Poulter, Justin Thomas, or they think of some wacky-colored customized shoes that they’ve seen. But since MyJoys are custom-made shoes that are made from scratch, for that order, if someone wants an 8 for the left foot and a 9 1/2 for the right foot, we can do that,” Fryer said. “There’s no extra cost for that since they are being made from scratch anyway.”

Steve Stricker wears two different sizes of shoe.

Steve Stricker wears two different sizes of shoe. (Michael Cohen/PGA Tour)

Steve Stricker certainly knows it because he wears a size 11 medium MyJoy shoe on his left foot and a 12 narrow on his right, said Chris Garrett, FootJoy’s director of consumer marketing.

On top of making a shoe that is comfortable for walking, the dynamics of the golf swing present footwear makers with unique challenges. Ideally, during the backswing, a player’s weight shifts to the back leg, and the front foot may gently roll to the inside. During the downswing, the player will push off the back foot, move weight to the front foot and rotate.

Masun Denison, Adidas Golf’s global footwear director, said his company learned all about that a few years ago when it conducted a series of special tests on golfers of all levels.

“After we put dots all over the shoes, we used high-speed cameras and a computer system to heat map the foot during the golf swing,” Denison said. “We could watch someone swing, and the cameras focused on the shoes, and it showed the strain created by the swing.”

Using the results of those tests as a guide, Denison said Adidas positioned support and traction elements in its shoes to match where players need specific performance enhancements.

Other brands have done extensive testing too, such as FootJoy, which conducted a study with PGA Tour pros three years ago at TPC Boston as golfers prepared for the Northern Trust Open. Several golfers made swings while standing on a unique mat that measured their weight distribution at address and weight shift throughout the swing. That information helped FootJoy designers
learn which areas of the foot required more lateral support.

Cobra’s Knudson said, “We know how the golf swing works and where different traction elements are needed, as well as how lateral forces are being created.”

Fred Couples picks up debris behind his ball on the second green during a practice round at the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., Tuesday, April 6, 2010. The tournament begins Thursday, April, 8. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

Fred Couples made waves in 2010 when he played numerous events, including the Masters, wearing a pair of spikeless Ecco Golf Street shoes that featured a molded sole with nubs. (Rob Carr/Associated Press)

When it comes to traction, golf shoes with replaceable spikes will probably provide the most traction in wet conditions, but it may come as a surprise to learn the most-played shoe on the PGA and European tours this season is spikeless, the FootJoy Pro/SL.

Fred Couples made waves in 2010 when he played numerous events, including the Masters, wearing a pair of spikeless Ecco Golf Street shoes that featured a molded sole with nubs.

The 1992 Masters champion flashed a casual style that golfers loved and to which they gravitated, but he also proved that a spikeless shoe could provide all the traction many golfers need. Ecco still makes shoes with replaceable plastic spikes, but it has advanced its spikeless offerings with shoes like the BIOM 3 Hybrid, which features a curved spikeless design.

Beyond providing golfers with much-needed traction, golf shoes need to keep a player’s feet dry in rainy conditions or when walking through dew-covered grass. Most premium golf shoes are waterproof, but players in dry, hot climates such as Arizona and other areas in the Southwest, may want to invest in a second pair that is water-resistant but not fully waterproof, because waterproof membranes can inhibit breathability.

Natural leather tends to stretch a bit over time, but if a microfiber or synthetic leather shoe feels snug in an air-conditioned store when you try it on, it is going to stay that way.

It has been said that golf is a good walk spoiled, and no pair of golf shoes is going to lower your scores from the mid-90s to the mid-70s. But footwear that fits properly, provides adequate traction and is comfortable to walk in will make any stroll more enjoyable. Gwk

(Note: This article appears in the May 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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