Comfort. That's what we demand from golf shoes today. But for many years, golfers had been forced to compromise comfort for performance. The more painful the shoe, the more support it offered. The more rigid the shoe, the more stability it had. Not anymore. Designers are borrowing technologies found in cleated-shoe sports like soccer and baseball, and non-cleated ones like skateboarding and wrestling to create footwear that offers the ideal combination of stability, traction, support and even comfort. "In its purest form, the game is played walking," says Dav Mattuicci, footwear product manager at Adidas Golf. "So we design all of our shoes for walkers."
As more engineers construct golf shoes for walkers and make comfort their No. 1 priority, they're increasingly adopting footwear techniques used for other sports.
"Tiger was our muse for the TW '13s," says Lee Walker, footwear-product director at Nike Golf. "He was training in Nike Free running shoes and wanted to get that same fit and feel in his golf shoes." When we evaluated more than 50 pairs of shoes to pick the 20 here, we considered comfort and style. "Footwear is grounded in style," says Golf Digest fashion director Marty Hackel. "Nobody should wear an ugly shoe, no matter how great it is."
Even the most classic-looking shoes in this guide offer elements of comfort, but some models push the idea of natural motion, offering a super-flexible, low-profile, spikeless sole that is designed to allow your foot to grip the ground while you swing. In fact, more are accepting the merits of spikeless soles; sales of non-cleated shoes increased by 136 percent in 2012 versus 2011, according to Golf Datatech. But how can you know which shoe is best for you? "It comes down to preference," says Grant Knudson, Puma Golf's product manager for footwear. "Ian Poulter grew up wearing FootJoy Classics, so he likes a rigid shoe. But Rickie Fowler wants more flexibility."
Technology now allows a seamless transition from everyday footwear to on-course footwear. If you wear a dress shoe eight hours a day, for example, you'll likely want to stick with a more structured shoe on the course. If you spend a lot of time in sneakers, you might want a flexible, street-style or sport-performance shoe.
Thankfully, the days of forfeiting comfort for performance are over. Walk on.