The morning after the previous scare and Billy Foster woke up saying, “Thank God Matt got that shot from the bunker. It could have been another kick to the stomach otherwise.”
It’s fair to say that Foster has experimented with some down-pointed Footjoys. In over 40 years and what he estimates at 120-30 majors, the 59-year-old has been caddy for the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn and even, for just a week, Tiger himself. Woods.
But before Sunday and Matt Fiztpatrick’s US Open glory at the Country Club in Boston, he didn’t matter. It’s like being a member of the Beatles and hoping for a number 1. Never mind the infamous Curse of the Billy Goat by the Chicago Cubs, there were rumors in the locker room that this was “The Curse of Billy Dawg”.
There was Westwood with three places at 18th at the 2009 Open to miss a play-off by a kick… Bjorn taking three to come out of a bunker at 16th at the 2003 Open when two ahead… “Thomas’s one took me about six months to get over it,” said Foster. “But there were about six or seven.”
It didn’t seem fair, to him or his unquestionable talent in the sack and that’s why there was a wave of joy for the Leeds United fan after Fitzpatrick hit that shining nine of iron from the fairway bunker to seal the triumph. On the tee, Foster had advised his employer to take a sled, when a driver would have loaded the trap. “No, here we go again, I thought,” Foster said.
Sir Nick Faldo was one of the first to congratulate Foster, with Ian Poulter soon extending his congratulations. Meanwhile, Jack Nicklaus called Fitzpatrick shortly after the 27-year-old’s trophy ceremony on the 18th green.
“One of the greatest final rounds in US Open history,” Nicklaus called Fitzpatrick’s 68, which saw him join the Golden Bear as the only players in history to win both the US Amateur and the US Open on the same field. “Just me and Jack,” Fitzpatrick said wistfully. “That sounds amazing.”
In fact, this was more the story of Matt and Billy, the veteran activist who had all but given up on his big dream when he and Westwood split four years ago, and Fitzpatrick, who refused to accept that he lacked the necessary firepower. to take down the best in the world. Prior to this year, no one would have ever thought that Fitzpatrick, all 5’7″ and 11th, would get a big courtesy for his shot at the ball.
“I remember seeing him play Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas at the Masters a few years ago,” said Mike Walker, Fitzpatrick’s coach since he was 14. “And he hit this big seven-iron when it would only be a seven-iron to the other two. And I thought to myself ‘it doesn’t matter how good I get it. He just doesn’t have time to live with it.’
Walker was on the M6 heading home when Fitzpatrick defeated world number 1 Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris by one hit. By the time Walker arrived in Sheffield, Foster had stood up at The Country Club headquarters and in one of his impromptu speeches had announced, “Matt played as Edward Scissorhands and somehow still won.”
Later, Foster, still red-eyed, said: “When he was losing that five feet, I thought ‘the little bitch! What is he doing to me? But he hit 17 of 18 greens. It was the best display of ball hits I’ve ever seen. I didn’t think he was capable of it, but he has improved a lot, surpassing Dustin [Johnson] in the first two rounds. He can be one of the top five players in the world, without a doubt.”
Walker agrees. “He’s in the top 10 now, so the top 5 is just another step up,” he said. “He won’t stop trying to improve. He challenges me as a coach, relentless, always wanting the next level. A few years ago, along with his conditioning coach Matt Roberts, we sought out the expertise of biomechanics coach Sasho Mackenzie and the work we did made his swing speed faster without changing his pattern or accuracy.
“The clubhead speed was 112 mph, but now it’s 119 mph. That translates to around 30 yards and means he can race anywhere. He showed it, even putting it off and that was always his golden weapon. And his chipping technique also sharpened his game. This was just an exercise we did with our players, but Matt found it comfortable and put it into play this year. He thought he had the barking. He didn’t, but if it works, it works.”
The extreme work ethic within Fitzpatrick was never in question – he’s mapped every play he’s played in the competition since he was 15 – but self-confidence may have been. In September 2020, he was protesting the bomb and gouge squad led by Bryson DeChambeau, saying the Incredible Bulk was “mocking the game”. On Sunday night, Scheffler joked that Fitzpatrick should be “on the Bryson Program.” “I took my drug test and it came back negative, so we’re all fine,” Fitzpatrick said firmly.
“I feel like maybe three years ago, if I was playing Will in the final group, I would have been worried about being 20 yards behind. But I felt comfortable all day that I would walk past him. It obviously gives him confidence.
“To be honest, I can’t wait to get to St Andrews [for next month’s Open Championship]. I’ll probably drive all the greens! My team and I said the target is six majors. That’s the number.”
Foster was naturally a part of these conversations, but even with a major, Fitzpatrick made an old fellow very happy as well as very rich (his share of the £2.3m is £230,000). But that was never the point with Foster, who as a teenager knew he wanted to help golfers fulfill their dreams.
“I left in 1981 and ‘stayed in hotels where if rats had come in at night, they would have taken a look and left because it was so dirty,’ he said. “I couldn’t pay anything else. But it was all worth it in the end. Not that this is the end. Matt is just getting started.”