The Art of the Game
Posters by Lee Wybranski
The American team's victory in the 41st Ryder Cup at Minnesota's Hazeltine National Golf Club left golf fans with indelible images, from the heartfelt remembrances of golfing legend Arnold Palmer and Patrick Reed's spirited celebrations to the superbly manicured course and exuberant fans. All of the pageantry, history, international flavor and competitive spirit displayed at the event is keenly rendered in the official team and event Ryder Cup posters, created by renowned golf artist Lee Wybranski.
The very night before the Ryder Cup festivities kicked off, Wybranski was up late hand lettering the last name added to the official team poster — American Ryan Moore — which had been announced after the Fed Ex Tour Championship ended the day before the Ryder Cup festivities began. Wybranski then spent Ryder Cup week signing posters and painting the scene live from the grandstand and grounds. Says Wybranski, who has a fan base of his own, "Painting outdoors with my easel lets me interact with the crowd and engage with the public."
As the official artist of the 41st Ryder Cup, Wybranski is not new to the high-profile commission — he has painted nine consecutive U.S. Open posters, as well as the poster for the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol and the 145th British Open at Royal Troon (with a clever nod to the course's famous Postage Stamp hole).
"I always aim for regional appeal," he says. "Something that speaks to the locals and the host course." In his first U.S. Open poster, for Torrey Pines in 2008, a paraglider hovers in the background. "Anyone who's been to that area of California knows that the paragliders are a common sight. People really responded to that image and it's one of my favorite pieces." When he was painting the official poster for the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, he knew he wanted to work in bourbon and horses, two defining regional passions. The poster's graphic look is a "nod to a bourbon label and there is a small horse in the center vignette."
Wybranski started his golf-art studio after graduating with a degree in art from Syracuse University. At first, he did commissioned pen and ink pieces of buildings for architects. After about a year, "the entrepreneurial spirit woke up in me and I asked myself how can I grow the business." The studio was based in Philadelphia, with easy access to some of the grand old private golf clubs. "I asked myself, 'Where do people have strong emotional attachments to buildings?' and came up with the idea of selling customized drawings to a handful of golf clubs in the Northeast." Wybranski's first clubhouse piece was for the famed Winged Foot Golf Club in New York. "Golf is a status-driven sport and a small, tight network. I did work for a few courses and the next thing I knew I was a golf artist."
Not a yet golfer at that point, Wybranski picked up and loved it from the first round. "I immersed myself in golf," he says, "I read a lot of golf books and really assimilated, not only because I loved it but because I felt knowing more would help inform my work."
Wybranski's studio, which employs three people, also does original logo designs for clubs and courses around the country, which is very different from the art posters that he alone creates. "The logo work we do is highly collaborative, and it needs to tell some of the story of the club. The client has to love the work and it needs to resonate with the members. They need to identify with it and rally around it."
With the hand-painted water-color art, "I have more liberty and autonomy. It you hire me, it's because you like my work. To get the best results, let me do what I do best." He presents three concepts to the client (the USGA, the PGA of America, the host club—whoever it might be) and typically recommends one over the others. Says Wybranski, "Ninety-nine percent of the time, the client goes along with it. There might be some tinkering—moving the logo, refining the fonts—but not a redo." Wybranksi recalls one hard sell, for the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. The poster features a whimsical face of a man in the clouds. "That was a little out of the box. As an artist, I want to create a recognizable style, but you can't grow as an artist if you don't stretch. The image of a Zeus-like wind god, which ancient cartographers used to communicate the trade winds, has an uncanny resemblance to the resort's owner and president, Herb Kohler, whose family started the American Club back in 1918. You can't get much more personal than that. It was a little too out there, but it turned into a very popular piece."
Wybranski often sells the original watercolor painting, from which the posters are printed, to the host club or the tournament winner. Dustin Johnson bought Wybranski's original painting of the poster for the U.S. Open at Oakmont after he won it. Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose are a few of the other PGA Tour players who have done the same. "With the time and effort and passion I have put into the piece, I like to know that it ends up in the right hands. I want the original painting to hang on the right walls. Golf has such a rich tradition, with a large body of literature and art that spans a few hundred years. I want to be part of that conversation and contribute to the heritage of the game."