Foster’s unique slice of Ryder Cup history

Europe's Lee Westwood (right) and his caddy Billy Foster during a practice session at Gleneagles
Europe's Lee Westwood (right) and his caddy Billy Foster during a practice session at Gleneagles
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In his 30 years as a caddie to the biggest names in golf, Billy Foster has seen it all.

He was by the side of the great Severiano Ballesteros in the early 1990s when injury and anger precipitated a drastic fall from grace for the sport’s most fabled genius.

He shed tears with Darren Clarke in 2006, when his employer scored three points from three in a Ryder Cup played in his homeland, just weeks after the death of Clarke’s wife.

Foster has even carried the bag for Tiger Woods, witnessing first hand the incredible drive and focus of the greatest player of his generation.

He may never have won a major with an employer in 60-odd attempts, but there aren’t many more boundaries left for this pint-sized self-styled joker from Bingley to break down.

His most notable achievement comes this week at Gleneagles, when Foster will be employed at a Ryder Cup for a 12th time.

That is more appearances than not only any caddie in the great history of the sport’s biggest event, but any golfer as well.

Coming two years after he was forced to watch the Miracle of Medinah unfold on television as he nursed a damaged knee to full health, the significance of the landmark is not lost on Foster.

“There’s a little bit of pride, of course there is,” says Foster, who is back on the bag of Worksop’s Lee Westwood this week, four years after their first Ryder Cup partnership at Celtic Manor.

“It’s been great to be involved in Europe’s best period in the competition, not the long association with losing.

“I feel like the Tyrannosaurus Rex of the group because of it. Players, caddies – nobody has done as many Ryder Cups as me.”

Foster’s first was in 1987 at Muirfield Village on the bag of Gordon Brand Junior, and he has missed only two since; that historic comeback at Medinah two years ago, and another European win on American soil in 1995, when his four-year alliance with Ballesteros was coming to a bitter end.

Ask Foster for some of his memories and he says: “how long have you got?”

So how’s this for starters?

“‘87 was just very special,” begins Foster. “It was Europe’s first victory on US soil.

“Seve holed the winning putt on the 17th green and everyone and his mother started celebrating on the green. I was with Gordon who still had a shot to play to the 17th green. That was a strange feeling. You felt like you were missing out.

“The K Club was by far the best Ryder Cup. Best atmosphere, a fantastic victory and unbelievable emotion because I was with Darren Clarke.

“Because it was in Ireland it was raucous; it was like playing golf in a football stadium.

“Favourite memory? I could probably give you two or three from every Ryder Cup.

“Monty (Colin Montgomerie) hit a chip on a practice day at Valderrama and I caught the ball and shouted ‘howzat’. Fred Couples and Davis Love looked at me gone out.

“Then at Oakland Hills I nicked Thomas Bjorn’s buggy. Everyone chased after me and I ended up falling out of it and the buggy ploughed on and into the gallery. It was like a scene from Benny Hill.

“That’s all part of me being the court jester. It’s been a great laugh and there are so many good stories.

“There were also the darker times as well. I saw the other side of Seve, arguing with players like Chip Beck.

“And then in ‘06 I saw an unbelievable act of sportsmanship between Zach Johnson and Darren Clarke. Zach picked up Darren’s ball marker when he had a three-footer to win it, thereby conceding the point. That meant a lot.”

In his near three decades of Ryder Cup golf, Foster has experienced the expedential growth of the event – “10-fold in the last 15 years” – and with it the Yorkshireman has also seen the role of the caddie develop.

Twenty-seven years ago they were barely welcomed in the team room. ‘Them and us’ was the mentality, not just between rival teams.

The fact that most Europeans now play in America, mixing frequently with their biennial opponents and their caddies, has changed all that. And Foster has changed as well.

Through time he has learned the trick to a Ryder Cup, even for a caddie, is to control emotions.

“My first two or three Cups I probably didn’t do that, in fact I know I was a bit of a doberman, getting involved in certain stuff,” he says. “I’ve seen experienced caddies at their first Ryder Cup completely lose it with their emotions. I’ve had to go up and say ‘listen, just behave yourself’.

“If a caddie is over-stepping the mark, I’ll pull him in a bit.”

As he approaches his 12th Ryder Cup, who better to do that?