A Yorkshireman with an inside perspective on both the beauty and danger of Augusta is Billy Foster. He talked to Nick Westby about the challenge of trying to master the Masters.
Billy Foster struggles to put a figure on the number of times he has caddied around Augusta.
As bagman to Seve Ballesteros, Darren Clarke and now Lee Westwood, Foster has been a regular visitor to the stunning setting for golf’s first major of the year.
With an access-all-area pass to the most famous 18 holes in all of golf, Bingley’s Foster knows he is a fortunate soul.
But he is not employed to enjoy himself. As one of the most revered caddies in the game his services are required to help his man plot the safest route possible around picturesque but treacherous Augusta National.
“It’s very much feel at Augusta,” says Foster, who was out walking the course for the first time on Monday ahead of today’s opening round.
“You have to walk around to see if there’s been any changes. I popped into the caddie shack first to ask the caddie master what subtle changes there’s been.
“The course changed a lot in the late 1990s, early 2000s, length-wise, on the greens, and they started cutting the grass against the players.
“You can’t chip and run at times because it just digs in, so it can make you look stupid.
“So I like to get out there and see where the flags are – it’s a case of visually seeing it in your head, the best places to be because not all of the time do you want to be knocking the flags out; you have to play to specific areas that are the best places to putt from.
“For instance, you’re better off being 30-foot below the hole with an uphill putt than 15-foot above it with a downhill putt. Because if you miss the hole you could be 15-foot past.
“I like to see that and advise my boss to the best of my abilities to forget about the flag, and to make sure I leave him in the best place to be.”
Westwood tees off alongside Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk at 5.58pm (UK time).
Worksop’s world No 3 has yet to win a major with Foster himself still without a career-defining gong on his own mantlepiece.
The focus in the build-up has been primarily on Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, with even world No 1 Luke Donald becoming almost an afterthought.
But Foster believes Westwood – who is invariably unruffled by his past inability to win a major – has improved his short game significantly to cope with the demands of Augusta.
Foster said: “Going back a few years Lee’s chipping was an issue, but in the last two or three years his chipping’s become decent and his bunker play now is exceptional.
“He knows, and he wouldn’t mind me saying it, he’s gone from a two out of 10 to an eight out of 10 from the bunkers.
“A decade ago when he was playing Ryder Cup with Darren Clarke, me and Clarkey were high-fiving each other if he managed to get it out of the sand.
“Now you’re looking at him thinking he can hole it.”
And on the greens, so often the decisive factor between victory and nowhere, Foster said: “I’ve always been half-decent at reading putts, but Lee doesn’t tend to use me much, he likes to do it his own way. Augusta is difficult because the greens are so severe and so fast that it’s very much about feel. The pace is so key, you’re often tickling it down slopes.
“That five years I had with Seve has left it ingrained in me that you can just look at the shot and see the shot, where you want to pitch it, what club you’re pitching with.
“It’s still there and if Lee asks me I’ll give my opinion, but he’s very confident in his own ability.”
Foster says the two of them will not even think about the green jacket unless they are in contention come Sunday afternoon, as they were two years ago. He is all too aware how draining a challenge the Masters can be.
“It’s absolute torture, you’re mentally shattered,” he said.