After 40 years as a caddie, Billy Foster gets ‘the gorilla’ off his back at the U.S. Open and finally loops for a major winner

In March at the Valspar Championship, Billy Foster boasted that he had caddied for 45 winners during his 40 years on the bag. It’s quite a victory total but it didn’t include a single major. Asked by a reporter about his victory flags, the unofficial trophy for the winning looper, Foster barked, “I don’t collect them. Never kept one. I have no interest in it.”

Ah, but that was before Foster finally had the bag of a major champion at the 122nd U.S. Open in Brookline, Massachusetts. When Will Zalatoris narrowly missed his birdie putt at 18, Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick became U.S. Open champion at The Country Club. With watery eyes, Foster approached the pin and kissed the lower right corner of the flag at 18. This one was different. This one meant everything.

“I had a gorilla jump off me back. Not a monkey, but a gorilla,” he told Golf Channel shortly after his back became a lot lighter.

There’s a fairly good chance that the flag from his 46th career victory may be buried with him when the 59-year-old Englishman takes his final breath.

“It means the world to Billy,” Fitzpatrick said. “I know it’s something he’s wanted for a long, long, long time. To do it today is incredible.”

At last. Just think about 40 years, in the neighborhood of 160 majors working for the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood before him. So many close calls. Bjorn, the Great Dane, should have won the 2003 British Open at Sandwich but needed three whacks from a greenside bunker at the 16th hole, made double bogey and gift-wrapped the Claret Jug to surprise winner Ben Curtis.

“I thought about that every day for six months,” Foster said in a recent interview with the Caddie Network.

With Foster on the bag, Westwood achieved World No. 1, but Foster figures that there were at least three or four golden opportunities at the majors squandered – from taking three putts at the last at the 2009 British at Turnberry to Phil Mickelson’s magical shot from the pine straw at 13 at the 2010 Masters and letting Danny Willett sprint past him at the 2016 Masters. There was also the heartache of being T-4 heading into the final round of the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont and having to watch Westwood spit the bit and close in 80. Had Fitzpatrick been able to putt for Westwood, Foster guesses they would have won six or seven majors.

“He putted like Edward Scissorhands,” Foster said.

Foster and Westwood parted ways in 2018 and Fitzpatrick happened to be in between caddies.

“It’s so funny,” Fitzpatrick said. “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.”

Foster is a legend in the caddie ranks, a master storyteller who can imitate Ballesteros to perfection. He’s caddied in a record 14 Ryder Cups – it would’ve been 15 but he missed 2012 with an injury – dating to 1987 at Muirfield Village, the first time Europe won on American soil. He worked that week for Gordon Brand Jr. He even caddied at a Presidents Cup in 2005 for Tiger Woods, subbing for Steve Williams, whose fiancée at the time was expecting their first child. Foster arguably is Europe’s most respected caddie and all that was missing from his resume was caddying for a major winner. He knows his job and he knows his place.

“The caddie is the jockey, and every now and then he needs to pull the reigns or crack the whip,” he told Todays Golfer in 2021. “There are times when you need to fire a player up, times you need to know what to say and times you need to shut up.”

In Fitzpatrick, he was convinced he had a player with all the attributes to become a major winner. Despite another close call at the PGA Championship last month when Fitzpatrick finished T-3, Foster’s resolve was never shaken that his boss was ready to claim one of golf’s biggest titles.

“I knew he was good enough to win a major and this week he has played unbelievable,” Foster said. “This has put a lot of bad memories to bed. It means everything.”

“He’s a voice of reason and a voice of authority among the caddie authority,” said Golf Channel’s Paul McGinley. “I’m really happy for him because he’s had an unbelievable career. … He hadn’t been with a player that won a major. That’s no longer. That’s why we’re all happy for him.”

The gorilla is off the back and Foster is ready to celebrate.

“Tonight and next week, I’ll probably have a liver like a football,” he said.