Foster and Westwood reunite for unfinished business

Billy Foster with Darren Clarke at the 2006 Ryder Cup

Billy Foster with Darren Clarke at the 2006 Ryder Cup

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IT WOULD have been a cruel twist of fate had Lee Westwood held onto his 54-hole lead at Muirfield this summer and finally breasted the tape at a major championship.

Not for the 40-year-old from Worksop, who has put in more hard yards than any golfer in pursuit of one of the game’s defining titles.

But for Billy Foster, the man who carried Westwood’s bag in the three years previously, a long overdue grand slam success would have been an unfair act of the golfing gods.

For Foster has had his fair share of near misses in the majors, mainly alongside Westwood, but also with Seve Ballesteros and Darren Clarke, who captured their majors when the Bingley bagman was otherwise employed.

In a quarter-of-a-century of treading the world’s great fairways, banking healthy sums of prize money and gaining a multitude of Ryder Cup memories, Foster has yet to taste glory in one of the big four.

So the news this week that he had been reunited with Westwood after more than 18 months apart brings hope that in 2014 and beyond the two men could finally end their major hoodoo.

Both could do with a slice of good fortune next season.

In the time since Foster sustained a cruciate knee injury warming up for a charity football match in May, 2012, they have each been required to make some key adjustments.

Westwood, who also parted company with his long-standing and highly-regarded Yorkshire coach Pete Cowen earlier in the year, took the decision to move lock, stock and two smoking putters to the United States last winter to enhance his chances of winning a major by playing more regularly on the PGA Tour.

While the move has worked from a family perspective, golfing-wise he has failed to scale the heights of recent years, dropping to No 23 in the world after a winless run stretching back to, unsurprisingly, before the injury to Foster.

The three days of fantastic putting and typically measured ball-striking and golf course management, which preceded an unfortunately customary collapse at the Open at Muirfield, summed up his season.

Foster spent 12 months on the sidelines as he nursed his knee back to full health through three operations and more than the occasional dark day of doubt.

When he returned, it was like he was back in the early-1980s, as a jobbing caddie looking for a permanent gig.

He carried the bags of Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn, England’s Dave Horsey and South Africa’s Branden Grace, as well as a brief reunion with Clarke, but permanent employment evaded him.

That is until the call came in from Westwood, almost a year to the day after the golfer had told his employee that he could no longer wait for him to regain full fitness, and was inviting Fred Couples’s former bag man, Mike Kerr, to join him for his American adventure.

“We had a couple of meetings out in America, a few things were said and the air was cleared,” says Foster, who grew so close to Westwood that their families went on holiday together.

“But we have got back together now feeling there is unfinished business.”

Certainly, a major was the only thing missing from their three years together.

Westwood won nine times with Foster on the bag, and rose to world No 1 in October, 2010, ending Tiger Woods’s five-year reign atop the rankings.

The pair helped Europe win the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, but the Open eluded the duo at Turnberry when Westwood missed out on a play-off by a shot, and then the green jacket was ripped from their grasp by a charging Phil Mickelson at Augusta in 2010.

“We get on really well, Lee and I. We really enjoy each other’s company,” adds Foster, whose down-to-earth Yorkshire attitude has been known to have a calming influence on Westwood under pressure.

“We have a good laugh together when we’re on the course but we know when we have to switch back on to being professional.

“The injury I suffered was very unfortunate in its timing for both of us.

“I’ve had ups and downs this year and been on the bag of a few different players. I wasn’t in a rush to commit to anyone, I was waiting to suss out my next move.

“I was always prepared to see what happened, plus I had to prove my fitness to not only myself, but the players as well.

“Lee’s had a lot of upheaval in his life with the move to the United States, but he’s still had a good year.”

Foster does not intend to follow Westwood’s lead by moving his family to America.

It means transatlantic flights will become the norm for Foster as Westwood looks to prolong his career in the Florida sunshine.

“Once I leave the house in West Yorkshire, it doesn’t matter if I’m flying to China, Qatar or America, I’ll still be away from home,” says Foster.

He gladly reports that his knee is back to full working order, or something like it used to be prior to the innocuous injury that threatened his career.

“I’ve just done a five-week spell on the bag of Branden Grace in China, Turkey, Dubai and Australia,” says Foster.

“If the knee’s not good after all that, which is probably the longest spell I’ve had in years, it never will be.”

Next stop for Foster is California, and his first tournament back on the bag of Westwood at Tiger Woods’s invitational event, the World Challenge, which is open to an exclusive field of just 18 players and which starts on Thursday.

Joining Woods and Westwood for the $3.5m tournament at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks are Ian Poulter, Jason Day, Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan, Nick Watney, Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, Jim Furyk, Keegan Bradley, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Jason Dufner and two more invites.

As well as the big money, big ranking points are on offer as Westwood and Foster look to kick-start their careers and begin a second coming that will result in that long overdue major success.

nick.westby@ypn.co.uk

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