Mythbusting Golf: Metal Spikes vs Plastic

There was a great segment earlier this week on the Discovery Channel’s catnip “Mythbusters” program about baseball. I’m no baseball junkie, but I was still fascinated to learn that there is no rising fastball, that cork bats don’t work, and that humidors have a big impact on ball flight.

I got to thinking about the preceding when reading a piece on Bloomberg this morning about metal golf spikes. A vestigial few professional golfers continue to use metal spikes on their shoes, despite them being banned on all courses to amateurs. Such pros think the things give them better traction, and thus more power and stability.

Do they, however? I’m an empiricist, and I’ve seen no data to demonstrate that metal spikes work best. Anyone out there got something to point to?

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Comments

  1. Since when does empirical matter to professional athletes? I suspect there’s no data to be found on the effectiveness playoff beards and unwashed socks, either. ;)

  2. Ed Lee says:

    i’m no scientist (or golfer) but intuition would tell me that the more contact points the golfer has with the ground (as with the “spider” style plastic spikes) the better their traction and thus power/stability…

  3. Evan says:

    I am very confident that if you could replace any diehard metal spike player’s shoes with soft spikes they would never know (without walking on concrete or something). That being said, Colin hit the nail on the head; this has little to do with actual belief that metal spikes make any difference.

  4. Carey says:

    I am not sure that any of you have played golf… are u kidding? Of course they make a huge difference. Trying generating swing speed like Tiger and then tell me metal spikes don’t make a difference. And what about rain and wet weather? The only reason we use soft spike is because golf is now so busy, that every Larry dragging his feet on the green ruins them.

  5. John K says:

    This study has some data that metal spikes are actually better.
    http://www.msu.edu/user/rogersj/Traction/
    Not that it matters for us actual golfers, because, practically we aren’t allowed to wear metal anymore at 99% courses in the US.
    If Tiger shows up with his metal spikes, he can play though…

  6. John K says:

    Speaking of Tiger,
    You can watch him live right now:
    http://www.pga.com/pgachampionship/2007/pipeline/?vid=stream2
    He’s -5 overall, 6 under for the day

  7. Evan says:

    Carey, Tiger has such good balance I bet he would be just fine swinging barefoot 90% of the time. The other 10% where it’s raining or he’s on loose ground of whatever would be harder, but metal spikes are only going to make a material difference over soft spikes a tiny portion of the time. Soft spikes grip extremely well. Besides, do you really think a quarter inch deep spike depressed into dirt is going to provide any real support?
    I have played quite a bit of golf btw, so I have some perspective here.

  8. Carey says:

    If you started playing golf in metal spikes, and moved to soft spikes then, I would say you would opinion about it. I personally did grow up on metal spikes and if I could use them again, I would.
    “I also have played quite a bit of golf BTW, so I have some perspective here.”

  9. Rafael Montoya says:

    I started playing golf in the early 70s and what I remember of the metal spikes was that a) they were much harder to clean after a game compared to modern spikes, b) they worn pretty fast (a good side business for most caddies was the sale of new spikes) but the gripping did not fade with wear, and c) the actual shoes are the ones that have improved greatly.
    I do not know if some of you remember that the leather was not weathered adequately so with time the shoe would became very rigid. When the synthetic materials came they were pretty smelly. I still have a pair of (almost new) old golf shoes a box and they feel like torture contraptions compared to what you can use today.