It’s SHoe-Time!

Why Fall is the best time to assess and replace your golf shoes

By Neil E. Wolkodoff, PhD

Sometimes, your connection to the ground is an overlooked component in golf. The season has taken a toll on your body if you play regularly and your footwear.

Now is the perfect time to assess your footwear for golf. Your feet will swell when you first play golf in the early spring due to the specific golf stress. Fitting a shoe then will be inaccurate as the swelling goes down later. Trying on shoes now will give you a more accurate fit.

The news to most golfers is how fast golf shoes wear out. Depending on the surface, running shoes will lose cushioning starting at 100 miles and lateral support at 200 miles. Athletic shoes use very similar materials and construction techniques in the sole and upper areas. Understanding the build of your golf shoes will aid you in determining which tests you can use to determine if they need to be replaced.

Golf is a sport where specific shoe characteristics intersect with performance. First, the golf shoe needs a bit of cushioning when you land with 2.5 times your body weight on the small heel area. More comfortable shoes are less resistant to this part of the shoe breaking down.

Traction may decline over time and be in such small increments you don’t notice. If you have soft spike versions, a few minor teeth missing here or there can affect traction in the swing. Replace the spikes first if this is the case. And even if not visible, replacing once a year will improve traction.

Permanent gripping options and cleats are tricky because they may look fine, but the edges may have worn off. For example, if the rubber nubs are round like a can, that leading edge can wear down, and the grip goes down.

The uppers are often the culprit in the golf shoes losing support and traction ability. The upper takes a lateral shift to the non-target side, then transfers all that force and weight back to the target side in a quick and explosive movement. Leather on the upper will hold up to this repeated lateral strain better than mesh or man-made materials.

If you place medical insoles or orthotics in your golf shoes, the strain on the uppers decreases because the foot has less internal roll in the swing. There is still a lateral strain on the upper, just less. The standard foam sock liners with shoes have a minimal life. They can compress and change fit in just ten golf rounds. Medical insoles and orthotics will last longer, from a year to two years. Often, replacing those at the end of the season will add some life to the shoes. The more stable the foot in terms of excessive internal motion, the less stress on the shoe upper.

Specific brands aside, here are some quick tips to determine if your shoes are worn out to the point of replacement.

Golf Shoe Age. In general, if you wear the shoes constantly, and they are two years old or older, it is time for a switch out. The combination of materials and structure will degrade without any visual signs over time. This resembles a well-running car that needs new tires, struts, and shocks at 30,000 miles. In this case, the loss of function in the materials is not how the shoe looks.

The Leaning Tower Test. Take the shoes and place them on a table. Look at the back of the shoe towards the toe at eye level, noting how the heel counter lines up. If this is leaning to the inside, the upper and the sole have started to fail. If in question, you can take a shoe to the golf store and compare it side by side with a brand new one.

Heel Strike Cushioning. Take one old shoe on one foot, then an identical or similar model on the other foot. Notice the amount of cushioning you get when your heel strikes while walking at least 20 yards on a hard surface. You can also notice how much the shoe flexes when you raise up on your toes repeatedly. If either is significantly different from the new shoe, a replacement is in order.

Upper Sway Test. Take your current shoe and try to move the upper back and forth laterally while holding the bottom of the shoe. Compare to a new shoe, identical or similar model. You can also do this with the shoes on while on the carpet in the golf store. Stand with equal weight on both shoes and try to move the forefoot compared to the heel in a windshield wiper motion while the shoes stay anchored to the carpet. There is no difference; they still have life. Moderate difference or more time for a donation. Just because the upper looks good is not an indication of lateral support.

Visual Length & Width Comparison. Take the same shoe brand, pull out a new one, and look carefully at the length of the upper and the width. Pay special attention to the forefoot of the shoe, as this is where golf shoes can widen over time. If it is bigger and/or wider, it has probably changed fit and time for a new pair.

Wrinkle Test. If you are using a shoe with a man-made sole with some kind of rubber/plastic mix, visual signals indicate the shoe is worn and does not work correctly. When you land on the heel and during lateral movements, the two-to-three-inch portion under the heel can compress and buckle. The outside of that area will develop creases and wrinkles on both sides, a sign the sole has lost support, both in walking and laterally. This is more of an issue with the comfort/athletic types of golf shoes than the traditional golf shoes with a ridged sole.

Neil E. Wolkodoff, PhD, performs research on golf and sports, and provides programs to improve human performance and health. He has worked successfully with PGA, collegiate and junior golfers over the last 25 years. Neil is the Medical Program Director for the Colorado Center for Health & Sports Science.