Lee Wybranski has always been nearsighted and thin — self-admittedly, a pretty lousy combination for a golf caddy.
Without a doubt, that 13-year-old would never believe he’d not only grow to love the game, but become the go-to poster artist for the U.S. Open Championship, capturing and playing on the top golf courses in the world.
Sometimes, present-day Wybranski has a hard time believing it himself.
An extremely busy two decades later, the artist now holds his own on the golf course, and has a body of work to show for it — a selection of which will be on view starting Thursday at the Southampton Cultural Center, including this year’s Shinnecock Hills U.S. Open poster.
“In the beginning, I didn’t relate to the golf world much,” he said. “I didn’t understand all the etiquette. I’d only had one summer caddying — which was, frankly, hard work. The bags back then were pretty damn heavy, all made out of vinyl. Nothing about it held any great fascination for me.”
By college, he was playing competitive pool — a sport solely concerning his own ball, not his opponent. It was only having a matter of time before he was re-exposed to golf, he said.
“Sure enough, like a million people, I got bit by the bug right away and couldn’t practice enough and read all the books and just loved it,” he said. “Since then, it’s been a love affair.”
What started as commissioned work for estates and small institutions transitioned into golf courses and clubhouses, he said. His knowledge of golf itself — from both the green and history books — informed his work immeasurably, he said, and he often visualizes the game as he plays.
“When you hit a shot that does what you imagined it to do, it’s just a great feeling intellectually, as well as physically, because usually it means you’ve hit the ball great, too,” he said. “I don’t think you need to be a great player — and I’m not — to have it benefit your artwork. It’s like being able to barely get by in Spanish or being fluent in it. Just playing a little bit informs you a lot. You learn where to be and where not to be on a golf course, and you can express so much more subtlety than you would otherwise.”
Last August, Wybranski found himself touring the Shinnecock Hills Golf Course for two days, circling its iconic, Standford White-designed clubhouse with a camera and sketchbook in hand.
“Even though the golf course is arguably top three in the world, the clubhouse is considered the most recognizable element there to the general golfing public,” he said. “Everybody knows it. It’s the oldest continuously used clubhouse in America. It’s beautiful, it has this stately location on the top of the hill, overlooking the links.
“We knew we were going to be focusing on that,” he continued. “To an extent, you have to give the people what they want, but part of my job is to reframe it in a new way, to give it a different look or different mood or different presentation than it had before.”
The view from the 16 shows off three greens lining the hill to the clubhouse, across a topsy-turvy landscape with bunkering and fescue that are identifiable as signature elements of Shinnecock Hills Golf Course, Wybranski explained. It marks his twelfth U.S. Open poster since 2008, and the original will be on view at the Southampton Cultural Center as part of the artist’s first-ever retrospective leading up to the 118thannual championship starting June 14.
“I’m of a certain vintage, so I would love to see Tiger [Woods] or Phil [Mickelson] win. I would love to see Phil win his U.S. Open at Shinnecock, where he floundered down the stretch back then,” he said. “Those two would be the most exciting to me, personally, and they would certainly move the needle more than just about anybody else would.
“But I’m also really excited to see the golf course show itself, and I’m looking forward to the show,” he added. “It’s just gonna be a special year, I feel like. Every year is different, but it feels like a special year going in.”
The first-ever retrospective from artist Lee Wybranski will open with a reception on Saturday, June 9, at 7 p.m. at the Southampton Cultural Center, located at 25 Pond Lane in Southampton. The show will remain on view through Saturday, June 30. For more information, please call (928) 310-2152 or visit leewybranski.com.