(C), 1997 Institute For Ordinary Research, Houston, TX USA

An impending golf dilemma

The Institute has fielded numerous requests from golfers concerned with the problem of providing secure placement of the feet during an energetic swing at the little white ball. The large spikes attached to conventional golf shoes seem to provide this function but sometimes they cause inadvertent surface damage to delicate putting greens. Could there be some less-damaging attachment to footwear which still provides the required support?

Institute staffers have noticed the recent arrival of golf shoes carrying smaller rubber protrusions which are barely noticeable as the golfer strides the links. Investigations of the efficacy of this new system have so far produced mixed results. Ordinary research points to the conclusion that these smaller protrusions provide adequate support for all but the most hefty swats at the ball but this solution generates a new problem: just how do the professionals running the course (not to mention the elder members of the club) maintain their required uppityness? Not only is it difficult to determine whether the golfer has put up the extra bucks in the price of his shoes (any respectable golf course must turn away players without special footwear), the non-metallic cleats make almost no noise as golfers move about the pro shop. One investigator remarked that this spike development has the same disturbing implications as the mini-collared shirt. Some golf club operators have reported embarrassing situations in which seemingly non-collared golfers (appearing to be one of the unwashed wearing a T shirt), subsequent to ejection from the course, won appeals after producing receipts from trendy clothing stores.

The Institute’s current stance on this question is that the incursion of the new, smaller cleat should be suppressed. Surely in the future some Advanced research organization will produce a variable length spike and solve this impending dilemma.

Rob Peterson, Director (97.12.3, IFOR-106)

A response from Al Crouch:

yes, your directorship, you have indeed hit upon a timely and important topic. i, myself, have recently acquired a pair of those spikeless golf shoes with the short non-metallic protuberances, having previously owned and used the metal spike variety. i therefore feel qualified to comment on this new trend. let me structure my comments in two parts: control of the golfer's angular momentum during the swing and (more importantly) the sight and sound of the golfer's image in the locker room, the pro shop and on the links.

a. swing dynamics

now let's make it clear that there are two fundamentally different regimes to be considered. first, the accomplished, low-handicapper who is not embarrassed to be seen swinging a golf club, who never drives his club head into the ground or breaks mach 1 in the air above the ball, and whose follow-through does not include falling to the ground. then there are the rest of us.

the first group has mastered all the david ledbetter tapes and realizes that balance is extremely important, during address, backswing, downswing and follow-through. he never becomes unbalanced, and applies only a minimum of shear load to the bottom of his shoes. he can use any kind of shoe sole, spiked or spikeless. in fact, a slick shoe covered with grease and standing in a tray of ball bearings would add maybe one or two strokes to his score for 18 holes. enough about him. if we're smart, we do not play with him.

the other group needs all the support possible. in many cases, even the steel spikes are insufficient. your humble correspondent has two recommendations here. first, if you can get a pair of ice-climber's boots (the ones with 2-inch hardened steel spikes), attach their soles to your golf shoes. better yet, just golf in the boots. you will enjoy a maximum of stability and will also have some other interesting experiences. such as the interesting ride in the golf cart when you drive your spikes through the accelerator pedal and can't get them out. and the interesting response you get from the guy in the pro shop when you clomp around his shop with a stack of floor tiles skewered onto your feet. an alternative approach is more technical (and therefore probably of more interest to your directorship). if the golf courses could be pursuaded to install steel plates under the tee boxes, a magnetic shoe might be the answer. a small high-energy battery pack on your belt, feeding a superconducting supermagnet in the shoe sole and you say goodbye to those embarrassing slips and falls. a side benefit of this approach could be a magnet in the club head to add acceleration in that all-important last phase of the downswing.

b. GPI

well, so much for stability. now to the more important topic of golfer's public image (or GPI as it is known to sports psychologists and media consultants). The fact that GPI is THE most important aspect of the game is readily apparent to anyone who has (a.) been to a golf store (b.) read a golf magazine or (c.) watched the golf channel. time nor space does not permit a complete discussion of this topic, which covers the whole spectrum of the golf experience: what you wear, what type of clubs, what golf ball, what golf bag, what you drive to the golf course, what you eat at the snack bar, what you drink at the 19th hole, etc, etc. never forget: GPI is the essence of golf. now to the shoe.

nothing has had much more impact on the game of football than the introduction of astroturf. on the one hand, it has spawned a whole new product line of sports shoes that are compatible with the synthetic grass. on the other hand, it has taken away the well-known round battle scars that so many pigskin warriors liked to show in their shins and calves and it has also taken away the really macho sound of solid cleats on the concrete tunnel leading from locker room to the field. the machine-gun staccato of hundreds of cleats hitting concrete as the team ran to the field used to be a staple of football broadcasting. there was always a camera set up in the tunnel. it ain't the same anymore.

i digressed to this topic because football is the defacto standard for the manly image. the golfing duffer who has just sat on the bumper of his car and put on his metal spikes and then walks that six feet to the golf cart, has one brief surge of the stadium tunnel mystique. by god, i'm tough, and i'm ready. send me in, coach. no way that image will ever be invoked by those soft, yielding spikeless soles. actually, from a freudian viewpoint the whole thing could be summarized thusly: "steel is hard, plastic is soft." a solid vote for steel.

one good thing the new shoes are doing is to improve the swing follow-through. the ideal finishing position that we are all taught is to pivot and raise the back foot up onto the toe. this exposes the bottom of the shoe to full view behind the golfer. so what better way to show off the sole of your choice than a full finish, held for about 10 seconds while you try to figure where the ball went.

many golf courses are ruling out steel spikes for the damage that is done to the greens. steel spikes may go the way of the mashie and the niblick. if that happens, it will be an opportunity for a short IFOR development project. why not a soft spike with a built-in sound source, a "clicker" that gives the sound of a metal spike whenever it is pressed? and if the soft spike was shaped and colored to look like steel, so much the better.

well, your humble hill-country correspondent has rambled on for too long. just remember, as the famous fernando used to say, "it is better to look good than to be good". a good GPI can offset a lot of triple bogies.


.....from the Institute

Al,  I think you have really made some good points; you clearly possess the snap required of one working at some kind of research institute, ordinary or advanced. Your thoughts on the extremes of foot stability push the envelope both physically and emotionally. And the concept of GPI probably has not had enough attention from the research community even though the lay press has worked it over well. The Institute thanks you for your observations and reserves the right to unashamedly plagarize your writings as required (IFOR has a policy of making small revisions to received text to minimize legal problems).

Regards, The Director