What if golfers debated shoes with the same energy and passion as they do drivers, putters, or wedge grinds? It’s a strawman debate because apparel choices are mainly driven, if not nearly exclusively, by preference, not performance.
Shoe companies create plenty of creative briefs touting the features and benefits of each new release. While the information has purpose, it mostly goes unnoticed by the golfer because the standard level of consumer analysis is a dichotomy of “Oh man, those look dope” or “Ugh, those look like bowling shoes.”
To date, golf golfers have placed form over function primarily because, for whatever real performance differences exist, shoe companies haven’t found a good way to put this information in front of consumers.
And without much to consider beyond aesthetics, it’s basically shoe-shopping roulette.
For golfers seeking to maximize performance wherever they possibly can, a paradigm shift is in the works.
DO THE TWIST
Even if you can’t identify the exact name (it’s BOA for the record), most golfers are aware mainline brands like Adidas, Footjoy, Nike, Ecco all offer shoes with a twisty dial thingy in place of standard laces. PUMA has a proprietary version which is similar, but a bit less functional than the original.
In the context of closure systems, BOA is becoming a genericized trademarked product, much like Kleenex, Frisbees, or Band-Aids. That is to say, other options exist, but category leaders ultimately become the bar against which all other competitors are measured. That doesn’t happen unless the product is, at least for a time, superior to every other product in the category.
The theory of BOA closure systems is straightforward. The golf swing is an athletic movement, and as such, players can benefit from any equipment or technique which allows the player to create and transfer energy more efficiently. In this case, we’re talking primarily about vertical ground forces and the role of shoe construction in enabling golfers to better access and use these forces.
Again, the purported benefits of BOA are sound. Still, there’s often a difference between what biomechanics experts believe with certainty and what they can prove to the degree that is acceptable to the scientific community. That is, there’s some common sense involved in thinking it’s better to run the 100 m dash in track spikes as opposed to flip flops, but quantifying the benefit – and answering questions like What? How much? and To what degree?” is an entirely different type of burden, particularly when golfers are being asked to shell out an extra $20-$30.
In this regard, the lightly-promoted Adidas Tour 360XT Twin BOA was more than just a limited stateside release testing the appetite of American consumers for something a bit different. It’s was a proxy for the larger conversation of golf footwear as real technology with quantifiable performance benefits. We’ll get to that part in a bit, but for now, here’s the story behind the shoe with two dials that’s likely to become a trend in golf shoe design.
If one BOA dial is good, two must be better, right? According to my foolproof taco scale, two is measurably better than one. That’s roughly the thinking behind the Tour 360XT Twin BOA. In this case, the modern design element is a pair of dials, each controlling a system of 49 strands of stainless steel wrapped in nylon, which runs through a series of channels to secure the foot. With the 360XT Twin BOA, one system secures the heel/ankle area while the other targets the forefoot. We’re not exactly talking about self-swinging shoes, but the late summer release will likely serve as the foundation for future designs.
“The BOA system is great, but with one dial, there are limitations as to where you can lock the foot down and offer stability in the shoe,” says adidas Global Footwear Director, Masun Denison. “Working with pro’s like Jon Rahm and through interaction with consumers, we realized there was an opportunity to advance how we used BOA and offer closure in both the forefoot and heel areas.”
The real value of the BOA lacing system is that it works to make each of the included features a little bit more powerful. Borrowing from the old BASF tagline, BOA doesn’t make the golf shoes you buy – it makes the golf shoes you buy, better.
“Our approach with BOA is always to maximize the benefit of BOA vs. traditional lacing… our mindset is the same – ensure that the BOA is offering not only a unique look but is leveraging the benefits of the system – including even closure, no loss of tension, precision, etc..”
In the Tour360 line, Adidas utilizes a 360Wrap to lock in and support the foot, while a Boost™ midsole provides “endless energy.” The Torsion Tunnel X provides flexibility and arch support, and an eight-cleat TPU Puremotion outsole works alongside X-Traxion lugs to provide stability and traction in a variety of conditions.
While most shoes with BOA closure systems look nearly identical to the laced counterparts, the 360XT Twin BOA is different in a modern, semi-plain, but refreshingly clean manner where the absence of a standard throat might be too much (or too little) for some traditionalists to handle. Think of it as a concept car for your foot.
In so far as individual reviews matter (which is to say it’s extremely limited), I did notice the Twin BOA version felt snugger throughout my entire foot and once I had each dial appropriately adjusted, I didn’t have to do anything until I wanted to take them off at the end of the round. I can’t prove it, but the micro-adjustability, which allows golfers to adjust the tension by +/- 1 millimeter, likely had something to do with that.
Now, to what end this actually matters? Well, that’s where the minds operating inside BOA’s Performance Fit Lab will have something to say…eventually. The objective of the new dedicated lab is simple, but the answers – and the process to get there – is more complicated. The purpose is to explore and quantify the performance benefits of BOA’s various closure systems across a range of sports/activities. Performance criteria (e.g., speed, agility, power, endurance) vary by sport, and while it’s several years away from authoring a complete compendium on the benefits of BOA closure systems, the process is well underway.
That said, going from hypotheses to published findings is a journey requiring thousands of steps. It’s complicated, sophisticated and intricate because the evidentiary burden is set by people who evaluate the merits of the science, not a marketing department that needs to stay just fractionally on the right side of the How much BS is too much BS? line.
To provide some context, the section of the lab dedicated to golf currently has a single hitting bay outfitted with Trackman, ground force plates, and a 3D motion capture system. The radar-based Trackman launch monitor computes the necessary ball/club performance attributes (ball speed, launch angle, spin rate, distance), and the ground force plates measure exactly what one would expect – the amount of force applied by the golfer throughout the swing. Additionally, the 3D motion capture system tracks player movement during the swing, which can be used alongside force plate data to quantify where, when, and how much force the golfer is applying at different stages of a swing. Simply put, the BOA team has started developing is golf products using the same technologies as the guys who make golf clubs, and that could be a big deal.
For now, the short-term benefit of the Performance Fit Lab is in establishing and expanding the academic bank of knowledge around what BOA closure systems can do regarding performance, and not merely as a value-added feature of convenience.
But considering the downrange implications is an entirely different proposition. Beyond use as an R&D tool, what if this technology eventually became a fundamental component of shoe fitting? You’re rolling your eyes, but let me remind you what happens when players find a tool that can measurably help improve performance (see: launch monitors, putting mirrors, over-sized putter grips).
What if golfers could select a specific shoe model based on a personalized set of performance criteria and similar to club fittings? Each player could use real data to drive purchasing decisions.
We already know future improvements on the equipment side are likely going to be incremental, not monumental. So, as golfers look under every seat cushion and the back of the sock drawer for fractions of yards and other bits of improvement, why wouldn’t a complete query include everything a golfer uses in the playing the game?
The first run of adidas Tour 360XT Twin BOA shoes available in the US sold out relatively quickly ($250 MSRP), which hopefully means we’ll see more Twin BOA offerings in 2020. With that, maybe what Mars Blackmon told us in 1989 (It’s Gotta Be the Shoes!) was more accurate than anyone initially thought.
Ponder and comment – Are you willing to see your shoes as a piece of equipment?