Designer Luis Pedraza's original Axis1 putter raised eyebrows, but 10 years later the company is still playing with the big boys — thanks to a win by Justin Rose in 2019
When I stepped onto the putting green recently at a PGA Superstore in Scottsdale, Ariz., my jaw dropped. There, right next to the displays of major manufacturers’ putters was a rack for Axis1, its name in white letters on a bright blue placard.
A small, independent putter-maker cracking a big box store’s selling space is the equivalent of a musician finally making it to Carnegie Hall. That’s when you know you have arrived.
I was surprised by the display because it has been 10-plus long and often frustrating years for Axis1 putters to finally climb onto the map. It helped that former world No. 1 Justin Rose used an Axis1 model designed specifically for him last year (the Axis1Rose mallet, $449 suggested retail) and won the Farmers Insurance Open. There is no vindication more valuable in golf’s marketplace than a PGA Tour player using a club on television, and winning with it.
Rose was a catalyst, all right, but the real reason for Axis1's success is the science and the physics behind its design. It was apparently just another boutique putter at the 2009 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando when designer named Luis Pedraza hawked his original model in a tiny exhibitor’s booth. The putter had an odd appearance, the head was shaped like the letter “J.” Weird-looking putters and their designers come to the Show each year in droves and usually never resurface.
As Pedraza recalls, most showgoers kept on walking past his booth and only one media member paid any attention to his club all week — me. I wrote up the Axis1 for Sports Illustrated because I believed it was a true technological innovation. I was pretty much convinced after Pedraza gave me a quick demo. At address, Pedraza slid one finger beneath the shaft, then lifted the club off the floor. The head didn’t flop heavily one way or the other, the way every other heel-toe weighted putter does. It stayed square to the target. It was perfectly balanced.
For 10 years I’ve wondered, "Why would you want a putter that didn’t do that?" A putter-head that flops means the user has to fight it and make adjustments to keep the head on the intended path. No one else in golf had a putter with that capability in 2009. A few manufacturers have unsuccessfully tried to duplicate its results.
“The bottom line is that we own the patents for placing the putter’s center of gravity exactly on the center of the striking face,” Pedraza said. “That feat has never been done in the history of golf. When you put the center of gravity on the center of the face and in line with the axis of the shaft, there is zero torque and zero movement when you swing and hit the ball. The head doesn’t move. The face doesn’t flop open. You’re just bound to be more accurate.”
The science made sense. Plus, seeing and feeling was believing. But golf-club making is a challenging business. Designing a better mousetrap is only part of the equation.
Who will manufacture the clubs and where? How will the clubs be distributed to retailers? And how do you get the message out to consumers when you don’t have money for a marketing budget while competing against big companies that spend millions on television commercials and PGA Tour player endorsements?
Pedraza has wrestled with those issues over the last decade, but Axis1 has already beaten most of the odds just by staying in business this long. Now, finally, it’s making headway.
“People sometimes say, 'If your technology is so good, why aren’t tour players using it?” Pedraza said. “All you can say is, 'The pros are getting paid a lot of money to use their clubs.' How do you compete with that? What Rose did was fantastic for us. He opened the floodgates and it’s the validation we needed. The pyramid of influence is really strong in golf.”
The original Axis1 model, the Axis1 Eagle, had a unique and curvy style. That’s a positive for an established, well-known brand but for an unknown club, it was a negative. I had it in my bag for a number of years and qualified for a pair of U.S. Senior Amateurs with it. Every time I played golf with someone new, they inevitably asked about the strange putter. I always did Pedraza’s finger-balancing demonstration and felt like an unofficial sales rep.
Pedraza continued to expand the line while keeping the basic center-of-gravity science the same. He got Rose to take a look at the putter on the practice green during the 2016 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Rose was under contract to a major manufacturer but was intrigued. When Rose’s deal ended in 2018, he worked with Axis1 to design exactly the kind of model he wanted and was especially keen on making sure it aligned him correctly and made him feel as if he was sighting a gun.
Last year, Rose jumped from 122nd in the tour’s strokes-gained-putting statistic to 21st. Those results should raise your eyebrows.
The Axis1Rose is a mallet with a two-pronged tail behind its face, a common modern style. A pair of parallel white lines atop each prong helps with alignment. There is another small line on the head’s topline above the center of the putter-face, used to align the putter with the ball. It is visually effective, just as Rose intended.
Pedraza’s other design successes include medical devices such as cardiac injectors and surgical tools, plus a 3-D computer mouse that NASA uses to control the Mars Rover. The latter sounds sexy but Pedraza says he simply downsized and redesigned a controller originally engineered by an Australian company to make it more ergonomically functional.
“How it got into NASA,” he said with a laugh, “I have no idea.”
A friend, a former U.S. Amateur champion and long-time golf observer, told Pedraza there have been only two real innovations in putters since the days when putters were simply flat on both sides. The first was when Ping introduced perimeter weighting with the Ping Anser and other models. The second was when the Odyssey Two-Ball putter used white ball-sized circles as alignment features. Every putter on the market is a version of one of those two fundamental approaches, the friend said, adding “I think you have the third one — balance.”
It was that moment early on when Pedraza observed that all putters were actually out of balance.
“I call that our ‘A-ha!’ moment,” Pedraza said.
As moments go, finally making it into the PGA Superstore after a decade isn’t bad, either.