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|The curved face of the MxV1 Putter face has the same radius as a golf ball. (Courtesy of MxV Golf)|
My favorite part of the annual PGA Merchandise Show is seeing new golf equipment and contraptions and talking with the inventors.
Putters are often some of the most intriguing novelties, as there seems to be an unlimited number of ways to address the putter's two main functions:
Get the ball rolling forward as quickly as possible.
Get the ball rolling on the intended target line.
Beyond these two prime directives, putters are all about look and feel and, well, even artistry.
At the 2013 PGA Merchandise Show, the most conspicuous new putter design was introduced by MxV Golf, whose MxV1 Putter ($199) looks like no other putter on the market.
The MxV1 Putter's stainless steel head is coated with matte black PVD finish and weighs in at a hefty 420 grams. The single slab of stainless is bent such that the face curves up and back, creating a convex putter face with a radius that mirrors that of a standard golf ball (1.68 inches).
The theory, based on Newton's Cradle, is this: By striking the ball with, essentially, another ball, you are guaranteed to strike the ball at the equator, and the milled grooves on the face will then ensure nearly immediate forward roll.
That's the theory behind the MxV1 anyway, but, as any scientist knows, usually a theory does not perfectly predict all observed results. So I took the MxV1 out to the practice green and real greens at Lake of the Woods Golf Course in Mahomet, Ill. to collect my own data.
At address, the center-shafted MxV1 with its single-bend shaft promotes a forward press, which is intentional, as I was to find out. During testing, I soon discovered that the MxV1 was almost too effective at creating immediate forward roll.
Let me explain what I mean. For most traditional putters, the face is lofted between 3-5 degrees to get the ball up just a bit and rolling on the surface of the turf. Striking the ball slightly on the upswing, at the equator of the ball, will encourage forward roll with these putters. With the MxV1, however, striking the ball on the upswing produces negative loft due to the convex curvature of the face, trapping the ball against the turf.
As a result, many of my putts were driven down into the ground first, producing a distinct hop. This problem was especially noticeable the longer the putts were. Even worse were putts out of the fringe, in which the ball was driven down into the longer grass and jumped and lost all their speed.
To make sure I wasn't imagining things, I asked a low double-digit handicapper, Bill Slough, and the head pro at Lake of the Woods, Dave Huber, to test out the MxV1 independently. Slough liked the set-up, although the weight was a bit extreme for him. On short putts, the natural forward press worked well, but as putts lengthened, he, too, noticed the ball hopping off the face.
Huber immediately noticed the similar theory behind the MxV1 and the old TearDrop Putter, which also featured a convex face. His natural putting stroke includes a forward press and a low, level takeaway and through stroke.
"When I make a stroke like I'm supposed to, it rolls like it's supposed to," Huber said.
On longer putts, however, as he made a longer backstroke, he also noticed that it was harder to keep that takeaway low without risking scuffing the sole on the ground.
I mentioned the results of my testing to Brian Wittman of MxV Golf, noting some of the problems I experienced.
"We have this preliminary outcome from our independent lab (Jim MacKay at OnePutt)," he responded via email. "With regards to your question about longer putts and out of the rough, I believe they are two separate actions that both have the same consequence. The curve of your putter is the same as the golf ball. Out of the rough, the ball is sitting down in the grass so the center of the putter face is always going to hit above the center of the golf ball (causing the ball to be driven down and then pop back up). The harder you hit the ball (and/or the higher on the ball) the more it will be driven down and the higher it will pop up.
"With regards to longer putts, I believe the same thing is happening (contact is made above the ball's center by the point on face of the club below its center). You can think of this as either topping the ball (hands behind the ball) or trapping it (hands forward of the ball) depending on hand position at impact. This would be caused by the person swaying or coming up during their downstroke while trying to swing harder for the longer putts.
"Therefore the key to having a successful putt with [the MxV1] is the player's ability to keep the putter very low to the ground with a neutral (close to zero) attack angle through impact [emphasis original]. The better they sweep the putter through impact (keeping it low to the ground for an extended period of time) the better success they will have. This would confirm that our sole-press-sweep method is the ideal putting technique and that a shorter backswing on the longer putts will give the best result."
Wittman's explanation matches my own observational data, along with that of both Slough and Huber. Although it seems accurate to conclude that a perfect stroke will deliver outstanding forward roll, it is an open question as to how many amateur golfers are capable of executing a perfect stroke each time. In addition, Wittman's advice does not address the problem of putting from the fringe, which is a generally advisable option for amateurs who often struggle with pitching.
No one can reasonably argue that the design of the MxV1 is not radical, or that the theory behind it is not sound. What is less certain, however, is how well it suits the strokes of the majority of players.
The sole-press-sweep putting stroke that the curved face requires in order to keep from lifting or trapping the ball does not come naturally to everyone. For example, the forward press is not natural to me, and when I do it, I tend to miss left, as my alignment is thrown off. Even some top PGA Tour putters like Steve Stricker avoid forward pressing. (Indeed, Stricker recently told Tiger Woods to move his hands back a bit, and hence began Tiger's current torrid winning streak.)
Furthermore, if the MxV1 necessitates a shorter backswing on longer putts (to avoid scuffing the sole on the ground), it means that the through swing will need to accelerate more. Of course, acceleration through contact is a good thing, but amateurs are notorious for not accelerating enough, and thus consistently doing so might be a challenge.
And, finally, it would take a deft touch and lots of practice to figure out how to use the MxV1 effectively from the fringe. (I worked at it for nearly an hour but failed to find any success.)
The bottom line, according to my testing, is that the MxV1 Putter is an intriguing option for golfers who already forward press and can consistently deliver a smooth, level, accelerating stroke. Huber, the pro who tested the MxV1, knocked in a long string of 4-foot putts once he found the precise vertical plane where the equator of the putter face met the equator of the ball. But my normal slight upswing contact produced nothing but hops, no matter how short the putt. It is possible, though, that I am simply an outlier that the theory cannot account for.
For more information, visit mxvgolf.com.
June 7, 2013
Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for WorldGolf.com, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.
Paying $79.17 for a dozen golf balls may sound steep. But, Kiel Christianson writes, "there is absolutely no doubt that Clear Golf Balls occupy the upper echelon of premium golf balls."
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