Matt Fitzpatrick US Open victory ends Billy Foster’s 40-year major wait as caddie stole the show
It was Matt Fitzpatrick who joined the history books by winning the US Open on Sunday night, but in the aftermath of victory on the 18th green at the Country Club in Brookline, it was his caddie who almost stole the show.
Billy Foster was in floods of tears as he strode over to the hole, plucked the pin out and kissed the flag.
An emotional scene, which, after the recent furore over golf’s civil war, lifted the doom and gloom surrounding the sport, was many years in the making – 40 years to be precise.
Foster has walked almost every inch of hallowed ground in golf and it was only fitting that after almost four decades in the business he clinched his first major win at Brookline, the same course where back in 1913 a caddie crossed the road to play and win the US Open.
The penultimate major of the year came down to the last hole at the legendary venue as Fitzpatrick was able to tap in for par before Will Zalatoris missed a birdie putt that would have sent things to a play-off.
Foster has been on the bag for two of the Englishman’s wins – 2020 DP World Tour Championship and 2021 Andalucia Masters – but at the weekend Fitzpatrick secured the biggest win of his career – and of his caddie’s too.
Fitzpatrick clinched his first major as he became only the third Brit to win the US Open but it was he who had his arm around his teary caddie, rather than the other way round, before they shared a warm embrace.
The Englishman wasn’t the only one to break his major duck. After decades of caddying for the titans of the game, from Seve Ballesteros to Lee Westwood, Foster finally got the ‘gorilla off his back’.
Matt Fitzpatrick (left) won the US Open to clinch a first major win for him and caddie, Billy Foster (right)
An emotional Foster kissed the flag on the 18th green after Fitzpatrick sealed the win
The Englishman’s victory was the first major win of Foster’s 40-year career as a bagman
The 59-year-old struggled to keep the tears at bay as he waited for Will Zalatoris to putt
Foster is one of the most recognised caddies in the world, having been on the bag for Westwood, Ballasteros, Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke and even Tiger – every one of them a great of the game.
And his service to the game has made him one of the most colourful characters in the sport.
Many of golf’s greatest stars took to social media to congratulate the beloved bagman. Both Shane Lowry and Nick Faldo hailed Foster as a ‘legend’ and Ian Poulter claimed it was ‘worth the wait’.
Many of golf’s greatest stars took to social media to congratulate the beloved bagman
But before the glitz and glamour of working with the biggest names in golf, Foster had to scrap along.
‘I stayed in hotels where if rats had walked in during the night, they would have taken one look and left because it was too dirty,’ he said, via Sports Illustrated. ‘But I couldn’t afford anything else.’
The caddie has been on the bag for 14 Ryder Cups
The 59-year-old started out by caddying for South African Hugh Baiocchi, in 1981 after working as an apprentice joiner with his father.
He then switched to Gordon Brand Junior, with whom he got his first taste of the Ryder Cup in 1987.
Since then he has appeared at 13 more Ryder Cups, most recently at Whistling Straits in 2021 with Fitzpatrick.
Foster picked up Ballesteros’s bag in 1990 after he was approached by the Spaniard at the German Masters and a week later a letter arrived at his parents’ house in which Ballesteros praised Foster’s attitude before outlining his conditions: ‘Don’t talk to the press; The player is always right; There should be no arguments.’
He did not witness a major win – with Ballesteros’s last coming at the Open at Lytham St Anne’s in 1988 – but Foster did have a front row seat to the legend’s moments of magic, most notably the famous finish at the European Masters in 1993.
Having pushed his drive right on the final hole, Ballesteros was left with a seemingly impossible shot over a wall with trees also blocking his path.
Foster picked up Seve Ballesteros’s (right) bag in 1990 after the Spaniard approached him
Foster suggested taking his medicine but Ballesteros saw his gap and took it, producing shot over the wall and above the pines to land just short of the green – resulting in the ‘greatest shot’ his caddie had ever seen.
Another player on Foster’s clientele list is 15-time Major winner Woods, who the caddie described as having the same ‘aura’ as the late Ballesteros.
Foster was only on the bag for a few days as Woods ‘borrowed’ the caddie from Darren Clarke for the 2005 President’s Cup.
Foster caddied for 15-time major winner Tiger Woods during the 2005 President’s Cup
His regular caddie, Steve Williams, was home with his wife, who was having a baby and Woods asked Clarke for permission to use his caddie for the week.
‘That was an incredibly humbling moment,’ Foster said. ‘To be asked [by] who I consider the best player of all time. I’ll carry that to my grave, to have caddied for the chosen one.’
Three years previously, Foster and Woods found themselves on opposing sides at the 2002 Ryder Cup but the caddie did come to his future employer’s rescue.
Foster, who was caddying for Clarke in his match with Thomas Bjorn against Woods and Paul Azinger, revealed the 46-year-old was caught short in the toilet at the Belfry.
Insisting he could not leave the American stranded, Foster got down on his hands and knees to pass a few sheets of toilet paper to Woods.
Foster couldn’t resist a little jibe, however, as he exclaimed ‘Europe one up’ as Woods grabbed the sheets from him – and sure enough, Clarke and Bjorn won one up.
The bagman faced Woods during the 2002 Ryder Cup as he caddied for Darren Clarke (left)
Clarke and Thomas Bjorn beat Woods and Paul Azinger (right) one up in the opening match
Bjorn is yet another great name adorning Foster’s CV but his experience with the Dane at the 2003 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s provided the caddie with one of his biggest major ghosts.
Bjorn took a two-shot lead to the 16th hole when catastrophe struck as he left two shots in a greenside bunker. He made double bogey and lost by one to Ben Curtis.
It wasn’t the sole great miss of Foster’s career. His 10-year relationship with Westwood featured nine top-three finishes in majors, including three runners-up.
Bjorn had a two-shot lead at the 2003 Open when catastrophe struck in a bunker on 16
A 2010 Masters loss to Phil Mickelson had to hurt but the most painful arguably came at the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry when Westwood three-putted on the 72nd green to miss out on a play-off for the Claret Jug with Tom Watson and Stewart Cink.
But Foster also enjoyed a laugh with Westwood with the duo providing comedy gold at the 2017 US Open.
Many players complained about the length of the rough at Erin Hills during that year’s tournament but Westwood and Foster found the funny side.
The player posted a video to Instagram, explaining he had lost his ball to the rough just off the fairway before Foster can be seen army crawling his way out of the fescue, exclaiming: ‘I’ve found it!’
Foster also experienced misses during his 10-year working relationship with Lee Westwood
He was on Westwood’s bag for 10 years before they split in 2018 and Foster soon joined another Yorkshireman, Fitzpatrick.
After a storm of ‘heartbreaking losses’ came the ‘perfect’ ending as Fitzpatrick finally handed Foster his major win.
‘I’ve probably had six or seven really close calls, a couple heartbreaking losses,’ Foster said. ‘It was tough to stomach sometimes.’
‘Just pure, utter relief,’ Foster said. ‘I have the monkey off my back, but it feels more like a gorilla.’
However, Foster had to have felt he was cursed as history looked to be repeating itself on the 18th tee.
Foster joined fellow Yorkshireman Fitzpatrick on the bag in 2018 after split from Westwood
With a one-shot lead Fitzpatrick, who had been happy to hit his driver most of the day, took his three-wood off the tee instead and sent it wayward into the sandy traps on the left hand side of the green.
‘It’s in the air turning toward the trap and I’m just like…,’ said Foster, who then made the face-palm motion.
Luckily for them both, Fitzpatrick pulled off a shot for the history books to leave himself with two putts for par.
Undoubtedly the ghosts of majors past began creeping into his mid but Foster managed to keep his emotions at bay.
‘Two or three times it flashes in front of your eyes and you have a little tear filling up and you say ‘stop that, stop that. Don’t even go there, just get on with it,’ Foster said.
‘But I’d be lying if it didn’t cross my mind two or three times out there today. You just want it so badly you can’t help but think about it. But we both did very well, we worked well out there today. There was no mistakes, not one. Everything was perfect.’
Under immense pressure to get par, Fitzpatrick pulled off an incredibly tough bunker shot
The victory was made even sweeter by the fact it followed yet another ‘almost’ at the PGA Championship.
Quick-witted and straight-talking, Foster appears to have a close working relationship with Fitzpatrick.
At the 2019 Scandinavian Invitational, Fitzpatrick asked his caddie for an opinion on a shot that was in a bush. Foster initially joked that they should ‘flip a coin’ to decide the outcome, before stating: ‘Everyone watching at home will say you’re cheating. Get on with it!’
Their banter-filled relationship shone through again at this year’s Masters. Playing the par-five 13th, Fitzpatrick was unsure on the yardage given by his bagman.
Foster and Fitzpatrick had another ‘almost’ at this year’s US PGA Championship
Stepping away from the ball, Fitzpatrick questioned the advice, which forced the caddie to say: ‘We’ve both thought about it and decided it’s the right play so get on with it.’
The quip resulted in the player to ask: ‘Oh sorry, are you in a rush?’ To which Foster responded: ‘No, there’s no rush.’
Quips aside, Fitzpatrick credits Foster for his recent success, having learnt patience from his bagman.
‘I think that’s the one thing that I’ve learnt more and more certainly over the last few years, particularly with Billy on the bag as well, is just to stay patient and the birdies will come, basically,’ explained Fitzpatrick.
Quick-witted Foster appears to have a close working relationship with the US Open winner
Meanwhile, at the PGA Championship, the pair seemed more focused on the Premier League than the major in front of them with Foster’s final-round morale hanging in the balance.
Fitzpatrick’s beloved Sheffield United weren’t in the top-flight, but his legendary caddie, a lifelong Leeds United supporter, watched on as his side fought for their Premier League survival.
On the final day of the season – and the final round of the US PGA – the player shared a photo to Twitter showing their set-up with an iPad, a laptop and a television showing three different matches. He wrote: ‘Big one today…..need Billy to be in a good mood later!!’
Foster had to have been in a good mood on Sunday with his well-earned celebrations almost immediately kicking off.
An hour after Fitzpatrick finished off his victory, Foster was still revelling in the win, standing on the 18th fairway with a beer in hand.
He was due to fly out of Boston on Sunday night but reportedly happily missed his flight and who knows if he will make his rescheduled one on Monday.
He had big plans for his celebrations, saying: ‘I’ll start with a beer in the caddie shack. Followed by another 20.’
After his 40-year wait, Foster would have deserved all 21 of those beers – maybe even 40, one for every year he has had to wait.