BROOKLINE — In his dreams, always it was the claret jug being raised to the heavens. No other trophy was in the equation for his lifelong quest. Not for Billy Foster, a proud Yorkshireman whose first taste of golf on the big stage was when he attended the 1975 Open Championship at Carnoustie.
Tom Watson beat Jack Newton and won the first of his five British Opens that year, and it planted a burning desire within Foster. He was going to be a caddie and he, too, would win the Open Championship.
Let that percolate on another burner for a moment as we fast forward to what unfolded early Sunday evening at The Country Club. It might not have been exactly as Foster had dreamed it up, but if his feel-good story took a back seat to Matt Fitzpatrick’s stunning win in the 122nd US Open, it is one magnificent side dish.
Nearly 40 years into a distinguished career in a field of work that is as turbulent as the roller coaster at the local neighborhood carnival that sets up once a summer, Foster can lay claim to being a major championship winner.
When Fitzpatrick, protecting a one-stroke lead, recovered from a drive into a bunker on the 72nd hole with a magnificent shot and two-putted for par, then stood breathlessly aside as Will Zalatoris missed his birdie try that could have tied, emotions were unleashed.
Yet, even as the 27-year-old Fitzpatrick savored the moment of triumph, he knew it might have been a touch sweeter for the gentleman who wrapped him in a ferocious bear hug.
“I can’t tell you how much it means to Billy,” said Fitzpatrick, who started working with his fellow Englishman around 2016. “I know it’s something he’s wanted for a long, long, long time.”
Given time to absorb the moment, Foster chose not to toast the dream that arrived. Instead, he put the spotlight on the young man from Suffield.
“His work ethic is like no other,” said Foster, pointing to Fitzpatrick. “When he goes to the practice ground, every shot means something. He’s not just hitting balls; he’s making notes.”
Fair enough. But this is where we return to the story that we had percolating, about that time in his life when winning the claret jug is all that mattered to Foster. He conceded he lived with heartache over how things had ended in the 2003 Open. His man, Thomas Bjorn, had a slim lead when they came to the par-3 16th.
“An evil bunker,” Foster said of what protected the green, and it is where no ball should go. But it is where Bjorn’s tee shot went.
The sound that resonated all over Royal St. George’s was the door shutting on Bjorn’s chances and opening for Ben Curtis’s shocking victory.
Years later, the memory was still painful and Foster conceded: “I would trade all 40 [career wins] for just one Claret Jug.”
Foster, whose superb career has included successful stints with Seve Ballesteros, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, and Bjorn, had seen his career wins creep toward 50, but still no major.
It’s not something you talk about, but countless peers and friends who admire Foster’s diligent work and all-world talent would tell you they quietly rooted for one of these majors to go his way.
In fact, Paul Tesori didn’t care at all if he was perhaps tempting fate Friday. The longtime caddie for Webb Simpson, who was paired with Fitzpatrick the first two rounds, Tesori saw scores of 68-70 get posted by the Englishmen and nodded his approval.
“When I shook [Foster’s] hand on Friday, I said, ‘Congratulations on your first major.’ Then I said, ‘I hope you don’t believe in jinxes.’ "
Absolutely incredible, Matt Fitzpatrick, thanks for a brilliant end to Father’s Day ⛳️— Gaz Beard (@Gazzabeard) June 19, 2022
And to Billy Foster too, so close so many times, what a moment 🥲 #USOpen pic.twitter.com/qGuBjxjE9d
Here’s a guess that Foster doesn’t believe in jinxes, that he puts his faith in hard work and the man for whom he works.
“Billy had been saying for a while, the time will come, you’re playing so well,” said Fitzpatrick, who has won seven times on the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) but was searching for his first win on the PGA Tour.
It is a testament to the deep ties within the caddie community that Fitzpatrick’s victory resonated with those who understand what this all meant to Foster.
As he watched Fitzpatrick embrace Foster and then saw so many tears flow, Jim “Bones” Mackay — he of the five major wins with Phil Mickelson and the PGA Championship with Justin Thomas last month — felt a rush of warmth.
“I’m extremely happy for him. It was really cool to see him get so emotional on 18,” said Mackay.
Added Jimmy Johnson, another longtime caddie and major championship winner: “Billy’s long overdue. He’s one of the classiest caddies I have ever met.”
Yes, Foster’s dream had always been for a claret jug. But as Fitzpatrick went from emotional hug to emotional hug — with his mother, Susan; with his father, Russell; with his brother, Alex — it was impossible to take your eyes off the caddie.
You think it rained torrentially Saturday night into Sunday? That was nothing compared to the precipitation that flowed from Foster.
Here’s a guess that when Fitzpatrick lifted the US Open championship trophy into a cool, raw twilight, Billy Foster didn’t care at all that it wasn’t the claret jug.
It was a trophy that answered his career-long quest. It was a major. And it was his. Finally.