Chicago-Area Artist Is in Demand to Paint Golf’s Major Tournaments
By David A. F. Sweet
The British Open at Royal St. George’s featured an historic win by 24-year-old Collin Morikawa, who was playing the tournament for the first time. Steve Lotus, who resides just outside of Chicago in Frankfort, watched the final round on July 18 closely.
“I wanted to see how much of a factor hole 16 was in determining a winner,” he said.
Why would he care about that particular hole during a tournament that features 18 of them? Before the event, Lotus – the official artist of the British Open — painted the heavily bunkered par-3 16th hole. Prints and posters of his work were sold at Royal St. George’s.
Aside from the British Open, Lotus has been the official artist of the PGA Championship (including the recent event in Kiawah Island won by Phil Mickelson) and, from 2016-2019, The Masters. He is also the official artist of September’s Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. Lotus is closing in on 50 commissions for major tournaments during his painting career.
Not bad for a retired dentist.
Lotus had changed his original major – art – to biological science at Northern Illinois University to have a much better chance to make a living once he graduated in 1976. As he became dedicated to his work as a dentist, he’d say to himself that he’d paint again when his two children were out of the house or simply sometime in the future. But a serious illness in 1987 spurred him to realize his passion for painting couldn’t wait.
“Quite frankly, when I was ill, you begin to reflect on things,” Lotus said. “When illness hits, you don’t know how much time you have.”
Though he became more involved with art at that point, it wasn’t until 1995 that he turned his eye to golf. He started painting golf scenes in both representational and impressionistic styles. Only two years later, he received his first tournament commission as the official artist for the 1997 U.S. Senior Open at Olympia Fields Country Club in Chicago. He was soon hired for the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club in Chicago. After a number of other golf commissions, Lotus sold his dentist practice in 2012 to focus on painting golf full-time.
Though the tournaments only last four days, the process to create an official painting is lengthy. Once he receives the commission, Lotus is planning up to two years before the major begins. He photographs the course and reviews possible painting options with a committee before getting to work in a unique way.
“When I paint, I turn all of the other paintings in his studio around to face the wall,” Lotus said. “I don’t want the distraction.”
Once finished with the work (usually 3 x 6 feet or 4 x 5 feet), posters and limited-edition prints are created, which his wife Sue frames and packages. Save for the last year, Lotus attends the tournaments and signs posters and prints in the merchandise tent. The original paintings are either sold to the club, members, art collectors or stay in the Lotus’ collection.
Lotus hopes to please four different parties with his art: the group hosting the event (such as the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, host of the British Open); the club hosting the event and its members, golfers and himself. Perhaps the toughest audience to please: club members.
“They know their courses well,” Lotus said. “I painted the 17th hole at Medinah before the 1999 PGA Championship. I took the photo of it at 5:30 in the morning. A woman said to me, ‘That doesn’t look like our 17th hole.’ I said, ‘With all due respect, it does at 5:30 a.m. in the summer.’ That’s the only time I’ve heard my painting doesn’t look like the hole.”
A lifelong golfer who once boasted a single-digit handicap at Joliet Country Club, Lotus believes it’s important for a golf artist to play the game.
“A golfer will know which holes have an interesting tournament history and may see an interesting vantage point on a hole,” he said. “Painting holes with these things in mind usually leads to purchasers of prints saying things like,’We saw Tiger hit that shot right there.’ “
And for a guy who used to paint album covers on his friend’s ceiling in day-glow paints as a teenager, traveling to the world’s renowned clubs to depict golf holes is truly a joy. Said Lotus, “I go to some pretty special golf courses that are stunning with their beautiful landscapes.”
David A. F. Sweet is the author of Three Seconds in Munich, a story about the most controversial finish in the history of sports. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.