The morning after the fright before and Billy Foster awoke saying: “Thank God Matt hit that shot from the bunker. It might have been another kick to the stomach otherwise.”
t is fair to say that Foster has experienced a few Footjoys aimed downstairs. In more than 40 years, the 59-year-old has caddied for the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn and even, for one week only, Tiger Woods.
But before Sunday and Matt Fitzpatrick’s US Open glory, he was Majorless. It is akin to being a member of The Beatles and waiting for a No 1. Never mind the Chicago Cubs’ infamous “Curse of the Billy Goat”, there were whispers in the locker room that here was the “Curse of the Billy Dawg”.
There was Westwood three-putting the 18th at the 2009 Open to miss out on a play-off by a shot, Bjorn taking three to get out of a bunker on the 16th at the 2003 Open when two ahead… “Thomas’s one took me about six months to get over,” Foster said. “But there’s been about six or seven.”
It did not seem fair, on him or his undoubted talent on the bag and that is why there was such an outpouring of joy for Foster after Fitzpatrick hit that brilliant nine-iron from the fairway bunker to seal the triumph. On the tee, Foster had advised his employer to take a three-wood, when a driver would have carried the trap. “On no, here we go again, I thought,” he said.
Nick Faldo was one of the first to congratulate Foster, while Jack Nicklaus actually phoned Fitzpatrick, directly after the 27-year-old’s trophy ceremony on the 18th green.
“One of the greatest final rounds in the history of the US Open,” Nicklaus termed Fitzpatrick’s 68 that meant the ‘Golden Bear’ and the Englishman are the only players to win the US Amateur and US Open at the same course.
“Just me and Jack,” Fitzpatrick said wistfully. “That sounds amazing.”
In truth, this was more of the story of Matt and Billy, the veteran who had all but given up on his Major dream when he and Westwood split four years ago, and Fitzpatrick, who refused to accept he did not have the firepower to down the best. Before this year, nobody would have thought Fitzpatrick, all 5ft 8in and 11st of him, would win a Major by his ball-striking.
“I remember watching him playing with Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas in the Masters a few years back,” Mike Walker, Fitzpatrick’s coach since he was 14, said. “And he hit this great seven-wood when it would only have been a seven-iron to the other two. And I thought to myself, ‘It does not matter how good I get him. He just does not have the length to live with these’.”
Walker was on the M6 driving home when Fitzpatrick beat world No 1 Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris by a stroke. By the time Walker arrived in Sheffield, Foster had stood up in the clubhouse of the Country Club and, in one of his impromptu speeches, announced: “Matt putted like Edward Scissorhands and somehow still won.”
Later Foster, still red-eyed, said: “When he was missing those five-footers I thought, ‘What is he doing to me?’ But he hit 17 out of 18 greens. It was the best ball-striking display I’ve ever seen. I didn’t think he was capable of this, but he has improved so much, out-driving Dustin [Johnson] in the first two rounds. He can be a top-five player, no doubt.”
Walker concurs. “He’s top 10 now so, top five is just another step,” he said. “He challenges me as a coach, relentless, always wanting the next level. A few years ago, together with his conditioning coach, Matt Roberts, we sought the expertise of biomechanics coach Sasho MacKenzie and the work we’ve put in has made his swing speed faster, without changing his pattern or his accuracy.
“His clubhead speed was 112mph, but now it’s 119mph. That translates to about 30 yards and means he can compete anywhere. He’s shown that, even with his putting being off – and that has always been his golden gun. And his cack-handed chipping technique has also sharpened his game. Matt put it into play this year. He thought he had the chipping yips. He didn’t, but if it works, it works.”
The extreme work ethic within Fitzpatrick was never in question – he has charted every shot he has played in competition since he was 15 – but the self-belief might have been. In 2020, he was railing against the bomb-and-gouge squad led by Bryson DeChambeau, saying the “Incredible Bulk” was “making a mockery of the game”. On Sunday night, Scheffler quipped that Fitzpatrick must have been “on the Bryson Programme”.
“I’ve done my drug test, and it was negative, so we’re all good,” Fitzpatrick said, tongue firmly in cheek. “I feel like maybe three years ago if I was playing with Will in the final group, I’d be concerned I’m going to be 20 yards behind. But I felt comfortable all day that I was going to be past him. That obviously gives you confidence.
“I can’t wait to get to St Andrews [for next month’s Open Championship]. I will probably drive all the greens! My team and I said the target is six Majors.”
Foster was naturally part of those conversations, but even with one Major, Fitzpatrick made an old bagman very happy, as well as very rich (his cut of the £2.3m is £230,000 (€268,000). But that has never been the point with Foster, who as a teenager knew that he wanted to help golfers fulfil their dreams.
“I set out in 1981 and stayed in hotels where if rats had walked in during the night, they would have taken one look and left because it was too dirty,” he said. “I couldn’t afford anything else. But it was worth it. Matt is only just getting started.”
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