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Golfing 'Barefoot'

By: Jeff Shelley


I've owned dozens of golf shoes over the years. They've run the gamut, from Dexters in the 1960s and '70s to more contemporary brands like Nike, Adidas, FootJoy and ECCO.

Originally equipped with steel spikes, the older models left me feeling like I'd been wearing lead boots with nails on the soles for 18 holes, the equivalent of slogging five or six miles with macabre torture devices on my lowest extremities. A bad right ankle - suffered while playing basketball as a teenager - invariably flared up after the supposedly salubrious act of playing a round of golf.

That ankle caused me problems right after we joined a private club in Seattle nearly 20 years ago. During my very first round I stepped on a hidden tree root and down I went, bag and all, suffering a hairline fracture and a bad sprain in that infernal joint that kept me off my new course for five weeks.

Of course, this misstep happened on the hole farthest from the clubhouse. Unable to walk in, I hitched a ride to the pro shop on the bed of a Gator, one of those maintenance vehicles used by the greens crew. As I passed other golfers while on the back of the rig I felt like Podunk's "mayor" perched atop a tractor in the annual July 4th parade.

From that point forward, on went an ankle brace every time I teed it up, regardless of the shoes I owned that year and, other than looking like a dork in summer while wearing shorts, my right foot has been relatively stable.

When soft spikes became de rigueur, indeed required, on American golf courses, they were a breakthrough in personal comfort. Instead of dragging myself to the car after wearing steel spikes, my steps were considerably lighter and painless.

And that's been the norm ever since, at least until a friend gave me a pair of new golf shoes. The term "new" really doesn't do these babies justice; they're revolutionary as far as comfort, both on and off the golf course.

True Golf Shoes

They're called True and, weighing in at a ridiculous 11 ounces, are the closest thing to barefoot golf I can imagine. Ryan Moore, the best player to come out of the Puget Sound region since Fred Couples, is a believer in - and wearer of - them, and I can see why that idiosyncratically attired PGA Tour player does so.

They're so comfortable that many golfers don't even bother taking them off after a round, wearing Trues home and, presumably, into the grocery store en route to bringing home the bacon.

I got the shoes a couple of months ago. Before reviewing them, I wanted to see how well they'd withstand Seattle's wet fall and winter and the occasional muddy patches on our course, an important consideration in our neck of the woods. I was also concerned whether they'd provide the equivalent traction of soft spikes. Our hilly track provides a true measure of that test.

I'm very pleased to report that my post-round socks have been dry and I've slipped no more than with soft spikes, which is seldom.

Sounding like some sort of exotic sports car, they, according to True's website (http://www.truelinkswear.com/technology), accomplish this ground grip via a "2.5mm TPU 'Ergo-Traction' Outsole with 4mm horizontal and lateral stability bars." Whatever - their footing is just fine.

The weirdest part about True's shoes is there's no heel. During my initial round shod in them, it felt ultra-strange sitting on my heels while taking a stance preparatory to hitting the ball. Seemingly about two inches shorter, I get a sense of what Gary Player's swing plane must feel like.

My two playing partners received new pairs as gifts, and they also wore them for the first time during my inaugural round and, temporarily anyway, experienced the same heel-less sensation.

[Full disclosure: The shoes were a gift from Mike Wagner, the son of Dr. John Wagner - who writes golf book reviews for Cybergolf. Mike's brother Bob also received a pair. The Wagners are all fine golfers. Bob was a PGA pro at Overlake Country Club in Medina, Wash., before heading into dental products sales, while Mike played on Arizona's Gateway Tour and is now in the PGA of America's program. After receiving a pair of Trues while working at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, Mike swore to me that he hadn't yet taken them off since returning home to Seattle. Mike loved the shoes so much he wrote a laudatory letter to True, which hired him soon after to help with sales.]

Wearing his new shoes, John, a legit 6 handicap, began his round by spraying balls all over the lot. I'd never seen the metronomic, straight-hitting dentist hit a hook before. After four holes the three of us glanced at each other with "WTF" looks, wondering what we'd gotten into. But by the fifth hole, our swings straightened out and we danced down the remaining fairways without worrying that our golf games were going straight into the toilet wearing these things.

Since all four of us sported the black-and-white True models, when we arrived in the clubhouse bar after the round we heard "quack, quacks" from our golfing buddies. The shoes are odd-looking, with narrow heels and an abnormally wide space for the toes, lending them a semblance to duck feet or Charlie Chaplin's footwear. But we all scoffed at the guffaws, because our feet felt as good as new.

Indeed, John, who's been playing golf for over 50 years and the past 40 wearing the same-colored model of FootJoys, is now a convert, saying he's never felt better after a round of golf than with these odd-looking slippers on.

The great Sam Snead once said he learned to play golf barefoot and practiced sans shoes to improve his feel. "Slammin' Sammy" would've dug these babies, and you might too. (True's advertising tag line is "the closest thing to a barefoot golfing experience.")

I'll be curious to see how well they hold up to the rigors of normal wear and tear, but so far so good. If these $160 shoes survive a full Seattle winter I'll be another True believer.

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