Rickie Fowler Hi-Tops May Not Be Helping His Cause

Rickie Fowler custom PUMA hi-top shoes
Rickie Fowler custom PUMA hi-top shoes
Rickie Fowler custom PUMA hi-top shoes (Photo: PUMA Golf)

Rickie Fowler had a breakout year in 2015. He won The Players Championship, the Desutche Bank Championship, and achieved his highest World Ranking ever, 5th, after a victory at the Scottish Open.

He is looking to better than in 2016. But his choice of footwear may not be helping him further his cause, according to an expert on the topic.

There was plenty of chatter on social media this last week on Fowler’s look at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

Love it or hate it, the defending Players Champion sported joggers and custom hi-top PUMA golf shoes all week long at Kapalua.

The fact that people were talking about golf, even if it was about fashion choices, was just fine. The game can use all the attention it can get.

Apparently the concept came from Fowler himself who requested the product from his clothing and footwear sponsor. “During a recent meeting, Rickie expressed interest in wearing a high-top cleat shoe that could be worn with more progressive apparel,” was the explanation from PUMA’s Director of Golf Footwear, Grant Knudson, “The result is a stylish, cleated performance high-top that includes a lace and Velcro closure.”

Rickie’s choice of footwear received no resistance from me – in my mind golfers are welcome to define their own style and if it might attract a different audience to the sport…please…get on board.

But just to get a more rounded opinion I thought I’d ask somebody more independent about the functionality of hi-top golf shoes with consideration for the PUMA prototypes that, as of now, are not going to be available at retail.

Thankfully, I knew who to call.

Casey Ward of Picton, Ontario is not only the defending Ontario Women’s Mid-Amateur Golf Champion, she also happens to be a Biomechanics Specialist. She recently graduated with a Masters of Science in Biomechanics from Cal State Fullerton and did her undergrad degree in Kinesiology at Queen’s University where she also captained the golf team. Her latest project? A study of golf footwear looking specifically at the “Effects on Muscle Activation and Performance.”

And before you think this is a fuddy duddy old scientist with a disdain for modern fashion trends; check yourself. Ward is actually younger than Fowler. In fact, from a fashion side she has no issue with Fowler’s choices. She does have concerns with how they may hinder his game, performance wise.

During a lengthy conversation Ward explained how the body and ankle functions and also how that applies to golf. The basics being that from a joint by point perspective, the foot is a stable joint while the ankle is a mobile one. The body basically alternates that way.

So in sports like basketball, where “cutting” motions and the possibility of ankle injuries make stabilizing that joint important to prevent damage, normally you want as much freedom as possible in that joint for other sports – golf included. The foot needs to be stable, but the ankle needs to move.

“From a performance standpoint I really don’t think they will be of any benefit, at all, and possibly a hinderance, especially to a recreational player,” Ward told me after spending a few days delving deeper into the topic herself after I sought her out with my questions.

“The ankle needs to be mobile, especially in the golf swing. Say the ball is above your feet and you have an uphill lie; you need to be able to dorsiflex (turn your toes toward your shin). If you can’t flex your ankle, like with big velcro straps across the top, that has to be hindering something.”

Ward says that even in her own play, facing an uphill lie, she always wishes she had more ankle mobility, even though she considers hers pretty good.

She adds that dorsiflexion is also important in creating power in the golf swing. “You need to be able to kind of squat down (and then up) in your swing and there is also inversion and eversion which is important.”  The later refers to the tilt of the sole of the foot toward and way from the midline of the body – an action that occurs as you move pressure through your feet during a swing motion.

Asked what level of impact it might have on a player, Ward admits it is certainly a case-by-case scenario.  “If I was a recreational player without a lot mobility I certainly would not want to be limiting it any more than it already is.”

As for Rickie and tour players in general…Ward adds, “Someone at his level wants all the performance advantages that he can get and they hopefully already have a high level of mobility that they wouldn’t want to be hindering at all. Unless Rickie has chronic ankle sprains that we don’t know about and needs stability – other than that I can’t see it being of much benefit.”

She concludes, “I think the shoe is all fashion – not performance. Especially for those guys who need to deal with all sorts of lies and conditions. Why would you want to limit your ability to do that?”

Ward followed our conversation with some Tweets addressing the topic.