Few things are as fickle as a golfing love affair.
I'm talking about when you fall in love with a specific golf club and then, sooner or later, fall out of love with it when a newer, sexier, better-looking or better-performing one comes along.
For some reason, the most fickle clubs of all are drivers and putters. I'm not sure how many of each I have stored in my basement and I don't want to know. Both numbers are in double figures, though. A dozen drivers, maybe. Two dozen putters, perhaps, but more if you count the ones I've given away. Way more.
Anyway, my loyalty to my current putter is being challenged by two newer models. I've got informal tryouts going on this month, and I'm not sure who's going to end up the winner.
In the interests of full disclosure, I'm currently using the Axis1 Eagle. You probably haven't heard of it, but I discovered it at the PGA Merchandise Show four years ago, wrote about it and have been using it ever since. It's got a uniquely shaped head, like a capital letter J. The cool technology behind it is that much of the weight is in the neck of the J, ahead of the putter face. What that causes is perfect balance.
I haven't gone a round of golf in four years without demonstrating the Axis1. Rest the putter head on the ground, balance the shaft on one finger and lift the putter up with your other hand. What happens next is… nothing! The head doesn't flop way to the right like most putters. It's balanced for gravity, so to speak. The clubhead's torque is reduced and it turns less in my hands. I have evolved into more of a square-to-square putting style because of it. The first season I used it, I knocked half a stroke per round off my putt totals.
The first new challenger I'm trying is an updated version from Axis1. This one is called the Joey. It's like the original but instead of the odd-shaped J, which some think is too weird, the head is squared off and more rectangular. It now looks more like a backwards L. I like the original shape better but that putter head always felt a bit light. The Joey's head has a little more heft and the ball comes off the face with a more solid feel. With my Axis1, I feel like I have to make a little extra "hit" when I have a long putt outside 40 feet. The Joey has more heft and feels better on longer putts.
It, too, passes the same balancing test. The other difference is price. The original went for $299 suggested retail, a pretty strong price in a weak market. The Joey's suggested price is $199.
"We're trying to separate our technology from the aesthetics of the product," said Luis Pedreza, Axis1 inventor. "Not every look of every putter suits every golfer. Some designs may be too radical. We'll continue to evolve our line and reshuffle the aesthetics." The other thing Axis1, based in West Roxbury, Mass., has done is change its promotional slant. Its new slogan is, No anchor required.
"We're the answer to the anchoring ban," Pedreza said. "One reason people anchor is to keep the putter face square to the stroke. Our putter stays square and stays on line, so we're hoping to capitalize on the anchored putting ban."
It's a timely message. The Joey made a huge first impression with me. It immediately went in my bag for several rounds and I liked the way it felt. It came with a smallish grip, though, and I prefer the larger pistol grip on my original Eagle. So the Joey is sidelined while I find a better grip. You can check out Axis1 at axis1golf.com.
The other club has a retro feel. It's the Mantis putter from Mantis Golf in Wilton, Conn.
The Mantis has a big green mallet head. To me, it feels like a throwback to the mallet surge of the mid-'90s that featured the old Ram Zebra, Bobby Grace's The Fat Lady, the original Odyssey Stronomic (one of the best putters I ever used) and the Mo Cat. How's that for a nostalgia dose?
The Mantis has at least three things going for it. All right, it's big. If you don't like mallets, you're out. But like those mallets that came before it, the heft of the mallet head is sweet because it's almost too big and too heavy to manipulate off-line. By that I mean it practically swings itself. You get it going on the target path, it pretty much stays there. The Mantis has a dark green matte finish. Its makers say its color design helps a golfer focus more on the ball. I'm intrigued by their slogans: Watch the ball, not the putter. And, No one ever says Keep your eye on the club.
Can you be a better putter because the stainless steel head is green, except for the bright white t-shape aiming line? I don't know yet. But I do like its heft.
The third thing is the feel. And the noise. The Mantis ($159 suggested retail) almost has a bit of a driver feel to it. The ball jumps off the polyurethane face pretty quickly and makes a distinctive tink sound like some drivers, although obviously much quieter. I have used it for two rounds on courses with slow, bumpy greens and I liked that extra zip the Mantis seems to have. It's a hot face. Will I like that zip if I go to Oakmont or another course with extremely fast putting surfaces? I don't know yet.
It also came with a tremendous custom Winn grip, thick and cushioned, just the way I like my putter grip. So the Mantis will get an extended tryout as soon as I get invited to play on quicker greens.
Until then, my starting lineup still features the Axis1 Eagle. But the tryouts will continue. It's nice to have some exciting new options. And so my putter collection keeps on growing…