BROOKLINE, Massachusetts – It’s somewhat fitting that in a place made famous by a young caddy who walked across the street and won the US Open, it was an old caddy who has traveled the world to get to this point, and finally won while holding the bag for a great champion.
Matt Fitzpatrick put on a remarkable performance on Sunday to win the US Open at The Country Club, but his caddy, Billy Foster, enjoyed the moment just as much.
An hour after Fitzpatrick took his win, Foster was still taking in the scene at The Country Club, enjoying the atmosphere with volunteers and others in the 18th fairway, drinking a Heineken while taking congratulations and trying to say a few words with reporters.
Foster, 59, an Englishman who has walked nearly every inch of sacred ground the game has to offer, worked for the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood during a more than 40-year career stretching back to when he was 16 years old.
But he had never carried a great champion’s bag.
Not until Fitzpatrick delivered a memorable final round, hitting 17 of the 18 greens in regulation to shoot 68 for a one-time win over Masters champion Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris.
For Foster, it was a win that he thought was his mid-40s career win.
“But it’s all that matters,” he said. ‘Forget the others. It takes a long time. Much heartache. Thomas Bjorn 2003 (British Open at Royal St George’s won by Ben Curtis). Couldn’t lose with three holes to play and managed to lose it. Westwood two or three or four times. He three-putted the last (2009 Open at Turnberry won by Stewart Cink over Tom Watson in a play-off). One lost. There have been six or seven ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’. There were a few with Darren Clarke.”
Foster has seen and heard just about everything over the years. He started caddying for a South African golfer named Hugh Baiocchi and moved on to Gordon Brand Jr., for whom he worked his first Ryder Cup in 1987. It was in Muirfield Village in Ohio, and for the first time in history, the European team won in America.
Times can be difficult in the early days of the journey. Caddying continues to work hard, and the stories told publicly are usually those of the guys who caddy the winners to earn huge commissions. But many move on, and Foster recalls a few days ago when the work was barely glamorous.
“I’ve stayed in hotels where if rats had walked in at night they would have looked once and left because it was too dirty,” he said. “But I couldn’t afford anything else.”
In addition to times with Ballesteros, Clarke, Garcia and Westwood, Foster also had a one-off stint at Tiger Woods. It came at the 2005 Presidents Cup. Woods’ regular caddy, Steve Williams, was at home with his wife, who was having a baby.
Woods was close to Clarke and asked permission to use his caddy for a week.
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“That was an incredibly humbling moment,” said Foster. “To be asked who I consider to be the greatest player of all time. I will bear that in my grave, to have been for the chosen one.”
Foster had a 10-year stint at Westwood, including the close call at Turnberry in 2009, as well as other near misses at the Masters won by Phil Mickelson in 2010 and again played at The Open at Muirfield in 2013, also won by Mickelson.
They decided to split up in 2018, not because of any animosity, more because it was time. Relationships between player and caddy often falter and both were ready to move on.
It wasn’t long before Foster hooked up with Fitzpatrick, another Englishman with great promise – and who won the American Amateur at The Country Club in 2013.
“It means the world to Billy,” Fitzgerald said. “I can’t tell you how much it means to Billy. It’s unbelievable. I know it’s something he’s longed for for a long time. To do it today is incredible.
“We ended up working together. I was kind of in between caddies. He just broke up with Lee, and he just broke up. It is so funny. He kept saying that the first time I was on the job I would just do 25 weeks and maybe get a stand-in for the others. I think he’s had about two weeks off in four years, so yeah.”
Fitzpatrick opened the tournament with rounds of 68 and 70 and was quite impressive. So much so that Webb Simpson’s caddy, Paul Tesori, who was with him in the group for the first two days, was moved to say:
“When I shook (Foster’s) hand on Friday, I said, ‘Congratulations on your first major,’ and then I said, ‘Hope you don’t believe in jinxes.'”
Of course, Foster was quick to give credit to the player who hit the shots. He’s seen so many over the years, but none are as committed to the craft as Fitzpatrick – which is saying something.
“His all-round game is great,” said Foster. “He has been put on 20 yards this year. He is cackling chipping (left hand low). Seve would be turning in his grave. He really has no weakness.
“From when I started four years ago, he’s a completely different animal. He bumped into DJ (Dustin Johnson) a few times this week. He is now a real player. I don’t know where it comes from. But his work ethic is like no other. So professional. He works so hard. He deserves it.”
When it was over, when Zalatoris missed a birdie putt on the 18th that would have tied for the lead, Foster buried his eyes in his cap and got a comforting squeak from Fitzpatrick.
He later worked his way to the 18th hole pin and kissed the flag before removing it as his most revered memento.
In the same place where 20-year-old Francis Ouimet, a caddy across the street who stunned the golf world with a US Open playoff win in 1913, now another caddy took a different kind of inspiring victory.
“It’s just so much fun getting the monkey off my back,” he said. “I didn’t have a monkey on my back, I had a gorilla on my back. And I’m glad I can just wipe it off.”