After his split from Honma, we take a look at the TaylorMade, Cobra and Titleist golf clubs that are in the bag of Justin Rose and find out how the founder of little-known Axis1 putters managed to get his flatstick into the hands of the former World No.1.
It’s been quite the golf equipment rollercoaster for Justin Rose in recent years.
Having spent the best part of two decades with TaylorMade, the Englishman parted ways with the equipment giant at the end of 2018 to take more control of the design of his golf clubs, signing a 10-club multi-year deal with premium Japanese manufacturer Honma at the start of 2019.
Their relationship got off to a flying start as Rose, the then World No.1, won his 10th PGA Tour title at the Farmers Insurance Open in only his second outing with his new clubs.
But after the initial success, a dip in form and slide down the rankings followed and the Ryder Cup star arrived at March’s Arnold Palmer invitational without a single Honma club in his bag. That trend continued at The Players Championship, where the 40-year-old Olympic gold medallist carried a combination of TaylorMade, Cobra and Titleist clubs.
The 2013 US Open Champion's split with Honma was made official in May, leaving him in the same boast as the likes of Brooks Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood and Patrick Reed as a free agent for his equipment.
But amid all the changes of the last two years, one thing that has remained the same is Justin Rose’s Axis1 putter – the flatstick that helped him jump from 187th to 3rd for his best-ever year in the PGA Tour putting stats.
The putters have weight pushed forward with a patented heel counterweight, making them perfectly balanced and ensuring they won't naturally open up during your putting stroke.
But with no presence on any of golf’s Tours, how did an Axis1 putter end up in the hands of Justin Rose? We sat down with Luis Pedraza, the company’s founder, to find out the story behind his putters and how a hopeful question helped him sign the then World No.1.
I’ve designed many products over my career, including in-ear wireless headsets, medical equipment and the controller that steered the Mars rover.
I have a degree in Industrial Design, and I’ve worked on designing medical equipment, consumer products and computing accessories. My area of expertise is ergonomics, so I primarily focus on making products easy and intuitive to use, while ensuring they’re aesthetically pleasing. A lot of product design is being able to see what nobody else can and then having the vision to make it better.
It wasn’t until I sat my Ping Anser putter down on a green that I noticed how it naturally wanted to fall open.
I was like, ‘hell that’s kind of silly, why can’t a putter hold its line?’ When I returned home I started to experiment with some rough prototype ideas to solve the issue. The more I explored the idea the more I felt there was something worthwhile in what I was doing and before long I filed for provisional patents. I kept pushing and before I knew it, we were at the PGA Show in Orlando winning ‘Best in Show’ for our new perfectly balanced putter.
We had such a radical design we had to learn to live with the “If your perfect balance putter technology is so good why are the best players not using it?” questions.
Axis1 was just a start-up company and we were trying to make inroads against multi-million-dollar companies, who pay players handsomely to use their equipment. Golf is a game with a pyramid of influence, and, in the US, many golfers want to play what the top marquee players are using.
‘Hey Justin want to try something you’ve never seen before?’
I was working hard to break through so at a PGA Tour event when I saw Justin Rose and his caddie approaching, I decided to try my luck and just asked him that question. He stopped, laughed and said “Ok, what do you have?” I quickly explained the physics behind our idea, and what was really cool was that he instantly understood it.
Justin Rose instantly realised the potential of the science and physics behind the Axis1 putter… it doesn’t twist.
That day he took a putter to try and asked if he could keep it for a while. A few tournaments later we caught up again, this time he called Graeme MacDowell over and started telling him all about the physics. Then he asked if I could make a mallet putter using my perfectly balanced hosel design (we only had blade styles at the time). I came home and assembled a mallet by grinding down the back of an existing model, 3D printing a new back and screwing it all together, hoping it would look like one integrated model.
The first week Justin Rose put the Axis1 putter in play was during the Fed-Ex Cup finals in 2017.
The first day Justin had the putter, I left him and Mark Fulcher, his caddie alone. I came back after an hour and he was still on the putting green practising with it. I went about my business during the day and came back at the close of play and they were still there on the putting green it. I couldn’t believe it when Mark came over and said “I think it’s going into play”. Justin putted the lights out that week. He finished 1st in four different putting categories and picked up + .537 strokes per round.
It was heartbreaking that contractual agreements meant Justin couldn’t continue to use the Axis1 at that time.
We were gutted, I didn’t know where to turn next. We were a small company trying to survive and all of a sudden I’ve got Justin Rose interested in using an Axis1 putter. I had to keep going and make it work.
A little smaller, a touch narrower, more like his current putter.
That was the start of our iterative process. I would meet Justin at a tournament and show him a new prototype and he would roll it and give me feedback. The first Axis1 model he played was a little wide, so he wanted a narrower and smaller head. But at the same time, I constantly had to work on maintaining the properties of our perfectly balanced technology. It was a huge amount of work going back and forth. Justin is a study of his equipment, we dialled down weight a little, the sound and acoustics took time to perfect, every shape, angle and shadow of the putter had to be worked around for him, his attention to detail is incredible. Justin can tell a 2g weight differential and let you know whether it’s at the head or grip end. Ultimately, he had to feel like a sharpshooter with our putter.
At the end of 2018 I had met Justin Rose at five events. I’d been to the Bahamas and the British Masters with him and we still weren’t quite sure we’d nailed it.
Justin kept telling me how he likes to feel locked in when he puts the putter behind the ball, and he felt there was just a little too much movement with the model we’d created together. So, we set about massaging the underside of the putter for him.
In January 2019 at Palm Desert I walked up to see Justin with my last prototype and I pretty much knew this was our last chance to get it right.
He started putting with it and he was draining everything on the putting green. His caddie was winking to say he really likes this one. We went through a checklist to ensure he was happy with everything from the feel, aesthetics and sound and finally used a laser to check his alignment. From 20 feet he was aiming at a tee peg where he and his caddie thought the putt would break from and he was spot on every time. It was truly unbelievable.
We made up to 10 dramatically different prototypes.
In all Justin has probably had 20 putters from us and they’ve been spaced over four different models. Every prototype is CNC Milled from a block of steel and is a one-off, so they’re a very time-consuming proposition, but we felt having the then World No.1 could move the needle for us. To develop each, you have to factor in CAD modelling and CAD engineering time plus a machinist. Then once we got past that first initial crude model we had to work towards something that could be brought to production.
Signing the World No.1 golfer to Axis1 still hasn’t really sunk in.
I still pinch myself, the likelihood of a small company getting anywhere near one of the World’s Top-10 golfers, who are all on huge contracts, just doesn’t happen. I think Justin Rose likes the final model because he’s had so much input to it, and he had a phenomenal year putting. He also likes that he’s the player that spotted the potential of our perfectly balanced technology, due to his deep understanding of the game.
With Axis1 putters you hit the ball right on the centre of gravity, because the shaft axis goes through that same point there isn’t any twisting.
Even if you hit our putters off centre, there’s such a small amount of twisting that it’s almost imperceptible, which isn’t the case with other putters. Think about face-balanced putters. The industry says they’re balanced so the face points upwards towards the sky. It’s a lovely story but we don’t putt to a hole in the sky. At address and during the stroke, even face balanced putters want to turn 90° from where you’re aiming, that’s what you’re fighting with all putters, but you don’t have to with Axis1 models.
Our patent is for the heel counterweight. It protects our idea and is why you don’t see others using the same technology.
Our perfectly balanced putters wouldn’t work without our hosel counterweight. We are the first company in golf to put the centre of gravity exactly on the centre of the putter face. You can only get that by using a heel counterweight, which then allows you to have the shaft axis running through the same point, which essentially marries everything together. We can develop endless putter head shapes, but it’s the heel that no one can copy.
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Lofts: 4-PW Shafts: Project X 6.5
Lofts and bounce: 52º-12F, 56º-08M, 60º-06K Shafts: Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter Grip: Lamkin Flat Cat grip