Do golf shoes matter? We got top tour pros to test the difference

Welcome to Play Smart, a game-improvement column that drops every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from Game Improvement Editor Luke Kerr-Dineen to help raise your golf IQ and play smarter, better golf.

Today, we’re delighted to hand the reigns to our own James Colgan, who reports on the findings of a rather interesting, informal experiment we conducted recently…

Much like electricity after a rainstorm and a birdie during a particularly nasty bout of the shanks, sometimes, you just don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. In much the same sense, if you’d like to truly understand your golf shoes, unlace ’em!

Here at GOLF.com, we’re constantly trying to unlock the secrets of golf performance — equipment being a key element of that search. Naturally, as part of that work, we wanted to quantify just how much golf shoes mean to the rounds we play, and what having the wrong shoes can do to a player’s performance.

So we tracked down our friends at Adidas for five different footwear options, grabbed a pair of sweet-swinging Tour pros — Danielle Kang and Joaquin Niemann — and, like the earnest social scientists we are, got to work on GOLF’s Footwear Challenge.

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Both Kang and Niemann underwent a simple experiment aimed at understanding the performance value created by our footwear selections. With a Foresight GCQuad launch monitor in tow, we tracked Kang and Niemann’s numbers as they hit driver swings with five different footwear options: bare feet, slides, sneakers, snowboarding boots and finally, a pair of Adidas’ newly-released Tour 360 golf shoes.

For those of us who have ever tried to play a round of golf barefoot, the results won’t surprise you. We found that on average, Kang gained upwards of 10 yards off the tee from her barefoot swings to her fully-cleated swings, while Niemann gained as many as 25 yards (!) in the same exercise.

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Perhaps most illuminating were the distance gains between sneakers and golf shoes. While both players felt most comfortable in sneakers, neither was capable of recreating their launch conditions nor their accuracy without the stability they’ve come to expect from golf spikes.

This was largely due to the importance of the lower body in both players’ golf swings, which require footwear options that “grip” the ground in order to push off through impact (and avoid slipping). This phenomenon was particularly evident in our testing with Adidas’ snowboard boots, in which both players interrupted their swings at the awkwardness of removing their lower-halves entirely from the swing, then produced lackluster launch numbers.

If there’s one thing that Kang and Niemann’s findings illuminate, it’s the importance of high-performing equipment. With so many other barriers to success on the course, don’t let your footwear options be one of them. After all, your feet are more than a point of contact with the ground, as GOLF’s Footwear Challenge found, they’re also a key to your performance in the air.

To learn more about Kang and Niemann’s experiment, check out the video above.

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is an assistant editor at GOLF, contributing stories for the website and magazine on a broad range of topics. He writes the Hot Mic, GOLF’s weekly media column, and utilizes his broadcast experience across the brand’s social media and video platforms. A 2019 graduate of Syracuse University, James — and evidently, his golf game — is still defrosting from four years in the snow, during which time he cut his teeth at NFL Films, CBS News and Fox Sports. Prior to joining GOLF, James was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from.