Tiger Woods’ shoe mystery hints towards his past and future
Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images
ALBANY, Bahamas — There’s been a little mystery floating around this week’s Hero World Challenge:
What’s up with Tiger Woods’ shoes?
Woods has famously been a Nike athlete for the entirety of his professional career. He very literally has his own line of TW-branded Nike shoes. But every time he’s teed it up in a golf tournament the last two years he’s done so while sporting a pair of FootJoys instead.
That’s a bit odd, no? There’s someone wearing Tiger Woods’ shoe line playing in Tiger Woods’ tournament and that person is somehow not Tiger Woods. (World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, who’s co-leading the Hero at its halfway point, has been rocking TWs for years.)
The first time he donned these shoes, Woods felt he had no other choice. It was his return to competition at the 2022 Masters, his first tournament since his 2021 car crash, and he acknowledged that he could only walk 18 because of the stability of this particular model of FootJoys. Nike promised they were cool with the arrangement, releasing a statement in support of Woods’ FootJoy decision. Woods implied Nike was working on something he’d be able to wear in the future. And although he walked and played in pain all week, Woods made the cut and made it through the weekend.
But Woods has played in a handful more events since then and he’s worn FootJoys each time. That has raised some eyebrows; surely Nike’s shoe department could fashion up something with a swoosh on it that would meet the needs of history’s most iconic golfer? It’s not as though Nike has stopped making golf shoes — heck, they just re-released Woods’ old shoe! — so it’s strange that the face of their brand has been marching forward in another brand.
Mostly it’s just a curiosity, the sort of minutiae golf fans like to zero in on, like when pros switch drivers or swing coaches. This is golf, after all. The little stuff is the whole point.
The philosopher Morgan Freeman (in his role as Red) once asked, “I mean, seriously, how often do you really look at a man’s shoes?” But Dufresne was never on the ground for a Woods comeback. Pretty often, Red! Studying Woods’ shoes is so commonplace that eagle-eyed sleuths immediately noticed that he was wearing a different pair during his practice session on Tuesday. These were black shoes that bore certain similarities to his FootJoys but were distinctly logo-free. Woods’ team declined comment about the kicks, and he wasn’t asked directly about them. But it was clear they’re some sort of unmarked prototype that Woods is testing out for potential future rounds. Whether or not Nike has a role in that prototype remains a state secret, although our Jonathan Wall has his suspicions:
The prototypes didn’t make it to competition. For Wednesday’s pro-am Woods was back in a white pair of FootJoys, the Premiere Series Wilcox. Thursday and Friday he wore FootJoys again, black for Rd. 1 and white for Rd. 2, their patterns and textures again confirming they were different than Tuesday’s surprise shoes.
If you’ve made it this far and find yourself in disbelief that we’ve expended this much thought and effort into the footwear of a 47-year-old golfer, let me point you in the direction of another philosopher, Mr. Forrest Gump:
“My mama always said you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes.”
Gump’s mama was right! Think of what we know about Woods from his footwear alone.
We knew how desperate he was to get back to competition. Turning to FootJoy shoes given his Nike relationship reinforced the fact that Woods was taking a no-stone-unturned approach. And so the shoes and the way he moves in them continue to serve as a reminder of what Woods has been through. The car crash, the recovery, the rehab, the surgeries. The shoes become mementos to Woods’ agony. They’re markers of his resilience.
Still, they were hardly magic. Since that 2022 Masters Woods has walked a full 72-hole tournament just once, at this year’s Genesis Invitational. He made cuts at the 2022 PGA Championship and 2023 Masters but withdrew on the weekend; in both cases his body wasn’t up for the walk.
One year ago this week, Woods pulled out of the 2022 Hero just days before it began, citing plantar fasciitis. That had flared up in the weeks leading up to the event, he said, as he ramped up his walking preparations. It was a harbinger of the subtalar fusion surgery that would come months later.
There have been other surgeries and other comebacks and they’ve often come here, at Albany, so in many ways this feels familiar. But in one important way it feels different: Woods is far more optimistic about his health this time around. He said he hurts. He said he’s sore. But he also volunteered the idea that he could play a tournament per month next season, a schedule that would theoretically include golf’s majors plus a couple other PGA Tour events. He hasn’t said that in a while.
But because Woods has never been the most precise prognosticator of his own health, the golf world watched carefully on Thursday to see how he’d move in those shoes. On the ground in the Bahamas we got to analyze from up close, judging his footfalls through bermudagrass and bunkers. Albany is about as flat as a golf course can be, but there are funky lies everywhere and acres on acres of sand to walk through. But Thursday passed without incident.
The question for Friday then became how he’d recover after Day 1, but Day 2 couldn’t have started much better. After a deflating set of late miscues had turned an encouraging first round into a three-over 75, Woods began Friday’s round with a wedge to six feet and a birdie. He waltzed his way to a four-under front nine before a sloppy back nine left him at two-under 70. In both cases his mind seemed to yield before his body. All things considered, that’s probably the preferable outcome.
But if Woods’ shoes tell us something about Woods, our fascination with his shoes tells us something even more interesting. Woods turns 48 years old later this month. He’s No. 1328 in the world. But his presence in the field is so dominant that it creates a strange vacuum effect; on Thursday it felt like every single person on property was following Woods’ group, leaving the rest of the star-studded field to play on through a perfect Bahamian afternoon in complete solitude. This week’s biggest stories are Woods’ shoes and Woods’ walk and Woods’ prospects going forward. That’s the reality when he’s around.
For the past decade the PGA Tour has grappled with the best way to build a future that doesn’t involve Woods, the golfer. It also never counted on Woods the politician. This week is a reminder that now, against all odds, it might have both. As a player director on the Tour’s Policy Board, Woods has been spending most of his waking hours plotting its next step. His voice carries the most weight. His presence has the most gravity. As the Tour and LIV and various golfing stakeholders try to harness and maximize value, here’s Woods serving as an obvious reminder: this is value. This is real.
We’ll see what Woods’ 2024 golfing future holds. Thus far there’s nothing in his swing nor in his gait to suggest he can’t play more events. We’ll see what his off-course future holds, too. Friday, he pointed out, was the first day of December, leaving just 30 days for the Tour and the Saudi PIF to act on their framework agreement. No past iteration of Woods would reference a board meeting in a post-round interview.
The weight of the golf world still sits on Tiger Woods’ shoulders. Those shoulders look up to the task. But he needs his back, and his knee, and his ankle, and his feet.
We’ll see which shoes he’ll wear as he takes the next step.
Dylan (cautiously) welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.