Do Golf Pros Wear Metal Spikes? But They are Banned!

Gary Woodland's USA metal spiked golf shoes

Growing up playing golf there was one particular sound which you do not hear at all at my local course anymore.

And that is the sound of all the members’ metal spiked golf shoes walking across concrete or hard surfaces on their way to around the clubhouse or to the car.

With the advent of plastic spikes and spikeless golf shoes I don’t hear that sound now but when I heard it on the TV recently watching the latest PGA Tour event it got me wondering whether the golf pros are still wearing metal spikes even though I was convinced they were now banned.

On average 15-20% of PGA Tour pros wear metal spikes. The major championships and main professional golf tours across the world set their own rules for each event and these give the pros the option to wear metal spikes. Bryson DeChambeau is a player who prefers them because of the extra grip and support he feels they give.

While the majority of pros have now made the switch that every amateur golfer has been forced to make to rubber ‘soft’ spiked golf shoes it is clear the use of metal spikes by pro golfers has caused a number of issues and arguments between players in years gone by and right up to this present day.

Indeed it is also interesting to note metal cleats were partly responsible for the miss of the most pressurised shot in golf history!

Tiger Woods wearing metal spiked golf shoes
Tiger Woods was a long term wearer of metal spikes

Are Metal Golf Spikes Legal or Are They Banned?

If you are like me and every other amateur golfer on the planet today you will likely have made the switch from metal spiked golf shoes to soft spiked ones a long time ago.

But given the pros continued use of metal spikes you may like me have also got confused at some point as to whether metal spikes were actually legal or have been banned for amateurs and not professional golfers.

Metal spikes are not explicitly legal or illegal by the Rules of Golf but are in effect banned for amateur golfers as a result of local rules which apply at almost every golf course in the world. These local rules require golfers playing at that course to wear spikeless or rubber spiked golf shoes.

Now to say that metal golf spikes are not illegal for amateur golfers according to the rules laid down by golf’s governing bodies – the USGA and R&A – at the same time as saying they are in effect banned may feel a bit confusing but this has happened in practice as a result of the status accorded to local rules.

According to the official Rules of Golf ‘local rules’ can be written and adopted by any course or competition and upon publication to golfers playing on that course “have the same status as a Rule of Golf.”

You will most commonly find a summary version of a golf course’s ‘local rules’ written on the back of the scorecard and it is always important that you check these before you tee off.

And what has happened over the course of the last couple of decades, as spikeless and soft rubber spiked golf shoes have come onto the market, is that virtually every course in the world has made a local rule stating that metal spikes or cleats are not allowed.

“Some [pros] are stuck in their ways, and others simply go for traction because they are what we call ‘heavy swingers’. They feel they want that traction. When it’s soggy the call for metal goes up. Terrain is [also] important ….. on some very hilly vourses, but in dry conditions, some may go for the comfort of plastic.”

Jessica Georgenes, PGA Tour Co-Ordinator for cleatmaker Champ

As we have already noted the venues for the golf’s 4 major championships, the PGA Tour and the other main world tour events make an exception for the best players on the planet but the importance of checking local rules for a course and competition should never be ignored.

Not doing do so can trip you up even if you are a past major champion.

2-time US Open winner Lee Janzen for example was disqualified from US Open qualifying one year because he was wearing metal spikes at a course that did not allow them after he had failed to read the letter sent to him in advance of the tournament stating steel spikes were banned even for the practice rounds.

To make matters more confusing it turned out that metal spikes were allowed at some of the other qualifying courses that year where the majority of PGA Tour players were competing but unfortunately not the one Janzen was playing at.

So when it comes to what spikes you are allowed to play in on your local course it is important to check the local rules although I would bet my house on it that amateurs will not find a course these days that allows metal spikes.

But what was the thinking behind golf’s decision to effectively get rid of metal spikes for the vast majority of us who play the game?

As a general rule golf courses outlawed metal golf spikes because of the damage they did and the comparable grip soft rubber spiked shoes offered players. Metal cleats historically cut up greens and fairways and also damaged walkways, bridges and other areas leading to extra repair costs for golf clubs.

So in essence it became a very simple economic and uncontroversial decision for golf courses throughout the world to get rid of metal spikes.

Golfers could continue to happily and effectively swing the golf club with enough grip in ‘soft spiked’ golf shoes at the same time as causing much less costly damage to the golf course.

Which Pro Golfers Wear Metal Spikes?

Pro golfers as we have discussed still have the option at the vast majority of events they play in to wear metal spikes on the golf course.

However even though they are allowed the number of PGA Tour players who still wear metal spikes has continued to diminish over the years especially as it was proven wearing soft spikes didn’t affect your chances of winning.

David Frost registered the first PGA Tour win by a player wearing soft spikes at the 1997 Mastercard Colonial tournament and when Davis Love III won the PGA Championship that same year again wearing rubber spikes on a very wet Winged Foot golf course the confidence pros had in wearing non-metal spiked shoes continued to increase.

By the end of the 1997 season around 75% of pros were still wearing metal spikes but within a decade that number had dropped to around 25%.

The number of tour pros wearing metal spikes has however remained relatively steady since then with only a slightly reduced 15-20% of players wearing metal cleats on any given tournament weekend today.

Bryson Dechambeau and Justin Thomas are the highest-profile players who still wear metal spikes. Tiger Woods was also a long term wearer until recently as was Phil Mickelson but both now wear soft spikes. Faster swinging players, including Bubba Watson, are more likely to still consider metal spikes to help their foot grip.

Gary Woodland and Adam Scott are another two PGA Tour regulars who often prefer to wear metal spikes.

However even those pros that continue to wear metal spike golf shoes have to be prepared for when the event or course they are playing may not allow them. So players such as Justin Thomas also have soft spiked shoes ready to go to enable them to be still able to play when the need arises.

Why Do Pro Golfers Wear Metal Spikes?

All golfers have only one point of contact with the ground when they are playing golf and that is with their golf shoes.

Having a good grip with your feet when you swing the golf club is therefore clearly vital and when your livelihood also depends on it as it does for pro golfers the importance of good grip takes on an additional importance factor.

According to this need for a good grip on the ground led early golfers to hammer nails into their leather-soled boots but thankfully those days passed and golf shoes evolved to having replaceable metal spikes in the sole.

The effectiveness of this design prevailed for a long time and it was only in the relatively recent past that soft spiked and spikeless golf shoes became a legitimate alternative option for the pros.

Professional golfers continue to wear metal spikes however for the simple reason that they feel it gives them the best grip on the ground when they swing. Faster swinging players such as Bryson DeChambeau do not feel soft spiked or spikeless shoes provide them with similar levels of grip particularly in wet conditions.

That is not to say that wearing metal spiked golf shoes is not still controversial even amongst the pros.

There have been numerous stories of pros falling out over someone’s decision to wear metal spikes on the course.

During the 2005 Masters for example 2-time major champion Vijay Singh had a big confrontation with Phil Mickelson in the Champions Locker Room at Augusta after Vijay asked to have Phil’s spikes checked after claiming he had damaged the area around the cup of the famous par-3 12th hole.

“I mean, argh, it’s so *&$! annoying, honestly. Look at all the metal freaking spikes around the hole. It’s a joke!”

At the 2021 Sentry Tournament of Champions world no.1 Jon Rahm also got more than a little hot a bothered during his 3rd round when he believed he missed a birdie putt due to a metal spike mark in his line.

His response is too colourful to print here but let’s just say he was less than impressed with some of his fellow pros choice of metal spiked footwear.

And who can forget Brooks Koepka’s reaction at the even just the sound of Bryson DeChambeau’s metal spikes as he walked past him while doing an interview at the 2021 PGA Championship?

It’s safe to say therefore that even amongst the professional ranks where the wearing of metal spikes is still possible it doesn’t come without controversy.

It may not be an option for us lowly amateurs but for now it appears metal spikes are here to stay in use among some pros although their usage does continue to slowly dwindle.

Final Thought

In 2020 the Rules of Golf changed – specifically Rule 13.1c – to allow you to repair nearly any damage on the green including damage from cleats or spikes that might impact the line of your putt.

This has taken old school players like me a lot of getting used to and if this rule had existed 30 years before it could have changed the course of golfing history.

At the infamous 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island, now famously known as the ‘War on the Shore’, the whole match came down to the last shot on the last hole of the last group on the last day.

3-time US Open winner Hale Irwin needed a half against 2-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer to bring the cup back to the USA and according to NBC’s Johnny Miller ‘there was more pressure on those two players than ever was exerted on a golf course.’

Eventually Langer was faced with a six-foot par putt to retain the Ryder Cup for the European team but when lining up his putt he saw a half-inch spike mark about 10 inches in front of his ball.

Unable to repair it according to the rules of the time he decided to hit his putt straight to miss the spike mark.

And the rest is as they say history. His putt missed and the USA won what is now recognised as the most hostile and bitter Ryder Cup ever played.

So as you can see the damage that metal spikes can make to greens can have enormous consequences!

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