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Sole Man: Running Spurs Innovation In Other Sports

Running is one of the primary catalysts for footwear innovations in other sports.

Running isn’t the only sport experiencing major footwear innovation. Many other sports are, too, but what you might not realize is that running is one of the primary catalysts for those innovations, too.

Soccer and football cleats have long been influenced by advances in track spikes and racing flats. Running has also long been a leader in the development of new midsole cushioning foams and outsole rubbers for basketball shoes. Now, the golf industry is taking cues from the natural running movement to develop shoes that allow a golfer to feel lower and more connected to the ground and allow for natural foot flex and movement.

So far, FootJoy, adidas and Nike are the leaders in the clubhouse, but Oakley, Puma, Ecco and other athletic brands aren’t far behind. FootJoy developed its MProject line with “minimal construction and maximum feel,” and the shoes in the line borrow more than just language from recent running innovations. Nike has put lots of its running technology in its Lunar Control golf shoe, while adidas has taken some of its learnings from its adiZero running shoes and put those into the new adidas adiZero Tour and PureMotion golf shoes. Ashworth’s Cardiff Mesh shoe adds a casual flair to athletic functionality. They might not look exactly like running shoes, but each certainly has plenty of running shoe DNA in its makeup.

Up until recently, golf shoes have been about traditional styles and classic silhouettes like wingtips and saddle shoes. But as golf has changed—specifically with the advent of lean, super-fit pro golfers who work out to improve their game—so too have golf consumers, says Davide Mattucci, marketing manager for adidas Golf and Ashworth.

“There is a new mentality, a new approach to the sport,” Mattucci  says. “With that in mind, many companies have begun to shift what the performance expectations of a golf shoe are. There has been a move away from the traditional leather dress shoe look to designs and models that are more of athletic and performance-based.”

While golfers haven’t rushed to adopt the “minimalism” concept as zealously as hordes of runners did a few years ago—and that’s probably a good thing—early sales figures indicate its a trend that has legs. The adiZero Tour and M Project shoes are much more minimally designed than most of its contemporaries out on the course. They’re much lower to the ground, use fewer materials in the upper and they are considerably lighter (the adiZero Tour is 10.6 oz for men’s size 9.) Each has a wider forefoot that allows the toes to splay for added stability and flexibility.

Based on its research, adidas believes the adiZero innovations allow a golfer to better produce more power, efficiency and transition through a swing from right heel to left toe (for a right-handed golfer), Mattucci says.

Any of that sound familiar?

Mattucci says the key factor behind recent golf innovations is the same thing that helped spur the running shoe revolution, namely, that performance is now dictating design.

“We’ve taken those things we’ve learned in other categories, specifically running, and brought those into golf to deliver on the performance promise and an athletic story instead of a clunky wingtip with golf spikes in the bottom,” Mattucci says. “Everything is built from the ground up with a golf swing, and that’s how this shoe was designed.”

But none of those innovations could be accomplished without advances in materials and manufacturing techniques. And many of those innovations also start in running, says Andre Kriwet, global director of footwear product management for Brooks Sports.

When it comes to developing heat-welded, no-sew seams, outsoles with better traction, midsoles with more resilient cushioning and upper materials that are stronger, more flexible, more breathable, more durable and lighter, running often leads the way. (Same goes for eco-friendly shoe materials, too.)

Running is the biggest category in sport shoes—and thus the highest sales volume—so it has the biggest amount of funding for research and development, Kriwet says.

“Most of the research starts in running and then the other categories are able to see what the similarities are—especially in materials and construction techniques—and use those findings to innovate in those categories,” Kriwet says.

Certainly every shoe company puts its own marketing spin on its innovations. The adiZero Tour shoe has strong, lightweight and dynamically moving materials known as SprintSkin, SprintWeb and a SprintFrame Oustole. While some of that is lost on consumers—just as it is with some of the jargon tied to running shoes—consumers always appreciate lighter shoes. And that’s also been prevalent in football and soccer, too.

“The thing that the golf industry has learned from running is that lightweight is better. Period,” Mattucci says. “In some sports, lighter weight can lead to speed. But in golf, where you pick up your foot 15,000 times during a round, there is a significant weight savings and that leads to less fatigue and better performance compared to the loss of energy you’d get while wearing a pair of 20-ounce shoes.”

This all goes to show you that your foot knows best what’s good for you. It’s nice to know companies are (finally) driving designed based on that.