Sun Devil Golf Gets Portraits of Greatness -- Done by a Sun Devil
(Story by Griffin Fabits, a Sun Devil Communications Intern Class of 2021 Sports Journalism major from Howell, Michigan.)
Kyle Lucks' first piece of commissioned artwork came when he was in fourth grade, when the 9-year-old painted a picture of global superstar Michael Jordan. It was set to publish in an issue of the Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine, but his fourth-grade teacher, a Jordan fanatic, wanted a copy of it, too.
So, she bought it off of him for $50.
The young Lucks was hooked then, enamored with the idea of creating and selling artwork for a living.
"It's where it all started," he said.
More than two decades later, it has paved the way for his production of incredible paintings and murals, of athletes, musicians and presidents. It also brought him back to an old home at Arizona State, where Lucks, a 2008 graduate, recently finished a wall of murals for the Phil and Amy Mickelson Player Development Facility. The Sun Devil Golf Gallery is up, and it is fantastic.
09.16.20 ?? pic.twitter.com/b670Sr563e
— Sun Devil Men's Golf (@sundevilmgolf) September 14, 2020
The paintings, a total of twelve, 30-inch by 45-inch murals, highlight the stars of yesterday and today of Sun Devil golf. They stretch down an entire wall inside the Thunderbirds Golf Complex, featuring current players on tour like Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm, Anna Nordqvist and Azahara Munoz, the school's five National Champion coaches and fifth-year senior Olivia Mehaffey, among others.
Each painting brings to life a signature moment in each of the players' respective careers; Lucks paints Mickelson's 2004 win at the Masters, Rahm's 2013 Ryder Cup victory over Tiger Woods and one of Chez Reavie's two PGA Tour wins.
The theme behind the paintings isn't so much to celebrate each player's professional success, but instead to underscore the strength and rich history of the Sun Devil Golf family.
"That was the objective for [the program]," Lucks said, "to highlight their current stars and not so much be a Hall of Fame, because they've had so many players over the years, but to really highlight the program, the names we know who are still playing."
Head men's coach Matt Thurmond was first to discover Lucks, who stumbled upon one of his paintings of Rahm while at Rahm's agency in Scottsdale.
"When I saw Kyle's art, I was like, 'Wow, that's amazing,'" Thurmond said. "That was exactly the look and feel we wanted."
Thurmond knew of just the spot inside his facility, down one hallway with a painfully large, blank wall. Finding the funds for a project of this magnitude was the final piece of the puzzle.
"One day we were doing a tour with [former men's coach and 1990 national champion] Steve Loy and I was telling him about it, and he says, 'Hey, I'll pay for it.' And that's what made it happen."
A deal was agreed upon, and Lucks went to work. He met with Thurmond and women's coach Missy Farr-Kaye, who devised a plan for which players to paint and which moments to capture. He first began painting in March, and the final product is more than either Thurmond, Farr-Kaye or Lucks could have envisioned
"It's not that often where you have a vision for something and what it'd be like and it ends up being better than what you thought," Thurmond said. "I'm really thrilled with how it came out."
An important aspect of this project, one that both coaches stressed to Lucks, was to show current players and potential recruits the global weight that the Sun Devil Golf program carries -- and to challenge them to be another mural on this wall one day.
"There's such a legacy here," Farr-Kaye said. "We don't have enough room on our walls for all of our amazing players. These are just our current tour players.
— Missy Kaye (@missymkaye) September 17, 2020
"There's nobody else in the world that can show and display golfers like we can. I love the authenticity of it. These aren't people from 10 years ago. This is what's going on now, and these are some of the top players in the world."
Alongside the Sun Devil legends, many of whom have gone on to enjoy fruitful professional careers, is the fifth-year senior Mehaffey. A four-time All-American, Mehaffey is the standard in which the players in the program "should be striving for," Farr-Kaye said.
"It's really cool to get to see that and her reaction to that and have an opportunity to thank her. It's a great way to recognize her tremendous hard work over the last four years."
Lucks' artistic craft was passed down by his mother, who earned a Fine Arts degree in school. His father was an amateur golfer, one who instilled in his boy at a young age the beauty of the game.
"After all that exposure to the game growing up, it definitely felt surreal to be mixing the "Masters Green" color for the painting of Phil Mickelson," Lucks said. "Without the fine art and golf influences from my parents this project never would have been possible."
And to blend the two -- the influence of his parents and his pride for his alma mater -- made the project even sweeter.
"I'm never going to get used to these projects. I'm very humbled by the fact that someone thinks I'm talented enough to entrust with this idea that they had, this massive wall that they had to fill with 12 paintings. I'm thrilled that they chose me."