Updated: May 10
It’s late afternoon at the Country Club, Brookline Massachusetts. One of the most spellbinding contests in the history of the US Open Golf Tournament is coming to an end in dramatic fashion, with three young stars wrestling for the trophy.
27-year-old Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick is on the tee. He leads by one shot from his playing partner, 25-year-old Will Zalatoris, the in-form American from California. In the clubhouse waits current Masters champion, Scottie Scheffler. Also only one shot adrift, he has set the golfing world ablaze in 2022 and is world number one at only 25 years of age.
It’s the dawn of the new guard. Fitzpatrick hits his drive, but for the first time in a nerveless round, it’s a bad swing. He ends up with a bad lie in the fairway bunker, and a worldwide audience gasps in dismay. It’s a familiar tale – a fairytale ending coming undone by the unbearable pressure at the end. Only two other English players have ever won the US Open in the 120-year history of the tournament, and Fitzpatrick has never won a pro tournament in the US. Not surprised but dismayed, the crowd wonders what will happen next.
Fitzpatrick turns to his caddy, 58-year-old Bill Foster, and shrugs. The caddy smiles, puts away the club, and they walk towards the ball.
As expected, it is in a horrible position, nestled behind a thick tuft of grass on a mound in the bunker. He has no clear shot, and the drama builds. Fitzpatrick calmly assesses his options, chats to Foster, and makes a decision.
This is not a story about that golfer, or that shot. It’s a story about that caddy.
Billy Foster has seen it all. Over 40 years carrying the bag for some of the world’s most famous golfers, he’s got stories to tell. Stories of the charisma and insane shotmaking of Seve Ballesteros, the heartbreaking major defeats suffered by Thomas Bjorn and Lee Westwood, and incredible Ryder Cup victories celebrated by the likes of Sergio Garcia, Gordon Brand Jr, and Darren Clarke. Hell, he even caddied for Tiger Woods once.
This popular Yorkshireman is a legend in golfing circles. He loves a pint, does a mean Seve impersonation, and is respected and beloved by the entire global community. A true personality, there was just one thing that seemed to niggle when talking about the affable Yorkshireman.
He wasn’t a winner.
Sure, the world-beating players he caddied for in a storied career collected over 40 tournament titles between them – but never one of golf’s major titles. These four tournaments are the yardstick by which true excellence is measured, and the world’s best caddy, coming to Brookline in 2022, had never been on the bag in a major victory.
So many close calls. So many stories of frayed nerves, not getting over the final hurdle, just being on the unlucky wrong side of history. Amidst all the great friendships and memories and trophies, the disappointment of being so close to greatness, but not quite reaching there, was in every conversation, every time his player teed up again.
Until Brookline, and Matt Fitzpatrick.
He had been the full-time caddy for the young star for four years at this point. The older man and the young Turk formed a formidable partnership, that classic mix of experience and youthful exuberance. Watching Fitzpatrick around the course on Sunday, it was implausible how mature and collected he seemed. But paying closer attention, one could see him conferring with his confidant and caddy, and in hindsight, it all seems obvious.
Fitzpatrick, unperturbed, lined up that approach shot out of the bunker. Aiming slightly left, trusting he had the game to hit a fade back to the green, he steadied himself. He hit it cleanly, beautifully, and it sailed unerringly towards the hole. The crowd erupted in applause as it finished on the green with a good chance at birdie.
10 minutes later, Zalatoris skimmed the putt that would have seen him tie for the lead, and the trophy was Fitzpatrick’s.
Fitzpatrick smiled, and then… Do you know what was the first thing he did? He turned to an emotional Foster and hugged him. Not a bro hug. A proper hug. The youngster said some words of congratulations to his caddy, and only then stepped into the lime light to receive the attention and accolades due to him.
I sat riveted for all of it. There was something special about this one, and in Fitzpatrick’s victory speech, he laid it out for me why this tournament was so compelling:
1. Maturity comes from acceptance of responsibility, not from age
The way Fitzpatrick conducted himself around the course, and at the ceremony, speaks to his emotional maturity. He was quick to acknowledge his caddy, his hosts, and his fellow competitors. He owned his own mistakes and right decisions but was quick to share the credit for when things went right.
2. Failure is only a thing that happens until you win
If Foster’s 40 years on the bag to get it done can teach us anything, it is that perseverance, partnership, and a touch of humour can make all the difference. Fitzpatrick acknowledges the calming influence and wise counsel of his caddy and mentor. The hard lessons learned finally came right.
3. The first follower is key
It’s a tired cliché, but man isn’t it the truth. In sport, a mixture of youth and experience is often the recipe for success. In business and life, do we surround ourselves with enough people of wisdom and experience? Even if we might judge them on some of their past failures as well as successes?
This was an epic battle fought by the future stars of the game. But as much as it was a celebration of youth and renewal, it was also a nod to the personalities and the unsung heroes. It was a celebration of the men and women on the bag that gives the game a lot of its flavour. And just this once, one of those legends got his moment in the sun.