The epicenter of athlete-inspired sneaker culture had only existed in basketball. From Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant, their namesake shoes were a testament to career-long dominance and all-around grit—the epitome of athleticism and looking cool while competing. During the late 90s and early 2000s, golf hadn’t experienced its cultural and stylistic boom just yet. Professional golfers weren’t considered (or dressing like) world-class athletes compared to the top names in basketball, football, or even tennis. Then, one player emerged with a $40-million Nike deal, thus beginning a major overhaul on the way golf was perceived to the public.
Before the existence of Air Jordans and other basketball-style sneakers in the golf space, golf shoes had been revitalized by none other than Tiger Woods. His dominant rise to icon status had infiltrated not just golf but also the rest of the sports world. As if his signature Sunday red shirt and fist pumps weren’t enough, in 2013 Nike introduced the first Tiger Woods golf shoe and the shoe game was never the same.
A decade ago, styles of golf shoes were one dimensional and mostly stuck to tradition. The most popular shoes of the time were classic leather wing-tipped shoes that resembled dress shoes, or the spikeless rounded toe capped sneakers popularized by Freddie Couples.
Basketball sneakers have continuously been marketed toward younger audiences, whereas garnering the attention of younger audiences to be more involved in golf wasn’t nearly as prominent as it is now. Tiger, however, helped raise a generation of young golfers who grew up with golfers being recognized as athletes. No longer was golf only considered an old-timer’s weekend hobby.
Throughout Woods’ long-standing relationship with Nike, his style had evolved, and on the brink of him re-signing with the company in 2013, he wanted to make a statement. He was a massive fan of the Nike Free running shoe and he wanted to merge the Free’s comfort with the functionality of a golf shoe. Tobie Hatfield, brother of legendary Jordan designer Tinker Hatfield, who was the brains behind the Nike Free technology, took Woods’ request and made the iconic TW13s.
Tobie Hatfield’s unique history as an athlete who studied anatomy and physiology led him to Nike in 1990 where he took up shoe development. (It also didn’t hurt that his brother had already cemented the Hatfield name in the brand’s DNA.) In his first few years at Nike, he worked on the gold track shoe that Olympian Michael Johnson wore to win two gold medals, starting Hatfield’s shoe designer career off quite well.
With his own knowledge of track and field, combined with his previous work, Hatfield wanted to create a shoe unlike any other. In 2001, the inception of the Nike Free technology had begun. The goal of this technology was to create a shoe that mimicked the sensation of running barefoot—where the goal was to create a second skin for the foot. Woods began wearing Nike Frees off the course, during his training and everyday life. As a result, his foot strength improved, while maintaining maximum comfort. Any shoe in the Nike Free collection harnesses all natural movement throughout the shoe, the outsole flexes which helps release stiffness in the foam sole with every step you take.
Prior to 2013, the Nike Free technology wasn’t equipped to be a performance shoe. So Woods and Hatfield got to work, blending the foam technology with functionality. The final product, the TW13s, became a staple for Woods and his game.
These iconic shoes had introduced a new silhouette to golf shoes. They were structured, but didn’t have the same rigidity as the prototypical leather shoe. There was a visual plushy appearance to these shoes—the out and mid soles were drastically thicker than popular FootJoys and adidas at the time. The higher ankle profile added to the stability piece that was so important to Woods. They were also uniquely different from Nike Frees—the only similar feature is that foam outsole. Traditional Free runs are dainty, simple shoes that are often made of a knit/meshy fabric, but the TW13s had to be altered to endure golf’s toughest conditions. Using a waterproof synthetic leather, these shoes remained lightweight yet durable.
The modernized version incorporates the same essential design of the original, with a low heel drop for a barefoot feel. Updated with removable spikes, the outsole helps you keep contact with the ground longer, which better harnesses the foot’s energy. Designed with the intent to create both stability and flexibility on the course, these shoes are constructed with Flywire-infused nylon straps that extend 360 degrees from the footbed to the lacing system, securing the foot for an adaptive fit that provides golfers stability with mobility.
Over the years, Nike has shifted toward more modernized and athletic styling with its shoes, but earlier this year announced the re-release of TW13 retros, in the classic white shoe with red and black accents—Woods’ quintessential color scheme. He often switched between the all black with red detailing colorway and the white with red and black detailing before switching to FootJoys in recent years. Despite Woods’ own shift from the TW13s, Tommy Fleetwood has been spotted wearing them in the white/black/red colorway. Just a few weeks ago, Nike released the TW13s in a Light Smoke Grey/Blue Lightning colorway available for $240.
For decades we have all recreated our best versions of the Tiger stinger and Tiger club twirl, but these shoes are the closest any of us have been to resembling the icon. The 10-year anniversary of these shoes reiterates the power of Tiger-mania and the longevity of his impact on the game. They took the world by storm, they were built for the best by the best, and much like their namesake, these shoes were game changers.