It takes a lot for one as stoical as Billy Foster to admit that failure brought him to tears. But he says he was in that state – all the way from Sandwich home to Yorkshire, in fact – after Thomas Bjørn passed up the opportunity to win the 2003 Open Championship. “I thought about that every day for six months,” Foster said. “It broke my heart.”
Matt Fitzpatrick was rightly lauded for his US Open victory at Brookline, but it felt like even more goodwill was flying towards Foster. One of the most popular characters in golf had broken his duck.
In close to 40 years of caddying for high-profile golfers such as Seve Ballesteros, Lee Westwood, Bjørn and Darren Clarke, there had been no victory in a major. More than 40 title wins and a key role in Ryder Cup moments that are the stuff of legend, but never one of golf’s big four titles. That a 27-year-old fellow Yorkshireman afforded Foster his moment led to appreciation from across the sport. An emotional Foster kissed the flag at the 18th hole as victory was confirmed by a Will Zalatoris putt squeezing just past the hole.
“I’d seen a lot of my mates win majors,” Foster said. “I had gone so close over the years. Darren had his chances, Thomas at Sandwich, Westy with Mickelson at the Masters and three-putting at Turnberry in 2009. There was a lot of heartbreak in there, a lot of scar tissue. Once Will’s putt missed it was just utter relief. The gorilla is now off my back. Not a monkey, a gorilla.”
Foster missed his scheduled Sunday-night flight home. He was unclear on whether he would make the Monday-night flight home. “I’m going on holiday on Wednesday so I’d better be home by then,” he said.
The bond between Fitzpatrick and Foster is strong. “This means the world to Billy,” the new US Open champion said. “It’s unbelievable for him. I know it’s something he’s wanted for a long, long, long time. To do it is incredible.
“We ended up working together when I was kind of in between caddies. He had just split up with Lee and just happened to work out. It’s so funny. He kept telling me the first time on the job: ‘I’ll just do 25 weeks and maybe get a fill-in for the others.’ I think he’s had about two weeks off in four years.”
Fitzpatrick has unquestionably benefited from Foster’s straight talking but there is a softer side to the caddie which he masks well. Foster was quietly confident about his employer’s US Open chances long before a ball was struck. There was cause for concern on the back nine on Sunday, though, as Fitzpatrick missed short par putts at the 10th and 11th. On the closing hole, he found sand from the tee before launching a wonderful iron shot that will be a US Open reference point for years to come.
“He has been playing incredible golf,” Foster said. “When he kept missing the five-foot putts I thought to myself: ‘The little bastard!’ It was doing my head in because we all know how good a putter he normally is. ‘What are you doing to me?’ I thought he was trying to finish me off.
“What an incredible shot at the 18th. We had a difference of opinion on the tee. He likes to hit a driver on that hole, I like him to hit a three wood. He hits a three wood and puts it in the bunker and I thought to myself: ‘Oh no.’ But his recovery was one of the best shots I’ve ever seen. Thank God.
“I always thought Matt was a winner but I must admit didn’t think he’d become as good as he has. He’s far better than I thought. He has an incredible work ethic, no one works harder. I can definitely see him winning further majors.”