Interview: Footwear Mogul Steve Madden on Getting the Golf Bug

March 3, 2016

We sat down with entrepreneur and footwear mogul Steve Madden to talk about his early love for the game, playing with John Daly, and why he admired Ben Hogan’s on-course fashion sense.

Congratulations on 25 years in the shoe business. That’s a huge achievement.  When did you first realize that the brand was a success?
I would say around three years into starting the business. We started to get some nice feedback. That was before social media. The phone started ringing for certain shoes, and I thought, “Well, we have something here.” 
Was there a benchmark you were hoping to reach when you launched your business that you finally achieved?
Well, when I first started out, I was just trying to pay my rent. That was basically it.
So, you’ve done well then, by those standards.
Yes, I have achieved that. [Laughs]
So how did you get into golf?
My dad was a big golfer.  He loved the game.  And I probably started when I was nine or ten years old just to get closer to my dad.  But there was, like, a bug. I fell deeply in love with golf. And I still am to this day.
How often do you get to play?

I live in New York, so we only have, like, six, seven months [to play]. So I try to play in the summer twice a week. I think I would play more if it was only 12 holes.
I read somewhere that Jack Nicklaus was in favor of 12 holes. And the problem with 12 holes is that I’m disappointing my friends [who want to play 18]. But really, 12 holes is plenty. And I would play a lot more. But I don’t want let my friends down. All my golfing buddies love the game like I do, so it’s kind of a letdown for them [to only play 12]. But I think that golf needs to be 12 holes, with the exception of tournaments. It would be good for the game. You could have two six-hole Nassaus, and it would be much shorter. 
I’ve always like the idea of building courses in three-hole loops, so you have an option to play three, six or nine holes, and so on.
Well, 12 is great. It’s just enough. You play the front six, the back six. You could have a match. And it’s two and a half hours, tops. And then you could go about your business. It’s just too long, golf. I have children and a business. And it’s just very hard to be out of pocket, going to the course, playing golf, then leaving the course. You’re talking a six or seven-hour day sometimes. It’s just too much.
Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever played with?
Oh my goodness. That’s a great question. I don’t know. I mean, I’ve played with Tommie Agee in events. He was the star of the ’69 Mets when I was a little boy. And that was a big thrill for me.
Any Tour pros on your list?
 I played with John Daly. I guess he’s the most famous. I hadn’t thought of it. Also Bob Gilder, Ted Tryba and Ian Baker-Finch.
What was your day with Daly like?
It was kind of interesting.  We played on 9/11, in 2001. We were both in Minnesota for a Target outing, Target stores. And we were all in kind of a state of shock and everybody was on their best behavior. He was absolutely a gentleman—couldn’t have been more generous with his time. We had a good time, although we had this cloud hanging over our heads. He was a terrific guy.
It seems like every time you do a golf-centric interview, you’re asked when we’re going to see a Steve Madden golf shoe. And you’ve always said, “Never, because no one can make any money in the golf business.”
You know, I might make some, just as a labor of love. But the irony is, the kind of shoes that I would make are more traditional, believe it or not. Because I make great women’s fun shoes, people will think that I would make all these crazy things. When in fact, actually, I’m finding it’s very hard to find shoes myself. Everything is sneakers. And I miss those traditional Ben Hogan-style, big, kilty golf shoes.
Yeah, the golf shoe market has changed. FootJoy Classics are no longer available.
It’s a shame. And I’d like to bring those back. I love the tradition of the game.  My dad used to wear those shoes. And I love the way Ben Hogan looked on the course. 
I read that golf really helped you get through your time in prison in Florida [Madden served two and a half years for stock fraud in 2002].
Yeah, well, of course, I watched it on TV.  And we would swing sticks on crates, just to keep our balance. You never not think about golf.
Is it true that there’s a documentary being made about your life?
Yeah. And maybe we’ll get a little golf in. It should be coming out soon. I think they’re editing it now.
You used to be motivated by money. Now you’ve got all the money you need, so what’s your motivation?
If I could hit a drive 300 yards down the middle, if I could drive it like Bubba Watson, I would give all my money.
No way!
Oh yes.  I would.