x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Behind every great golfer there's a great caddie

Billy Foster has carried the bag for Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros and now the new world No 1 Lee Westwood.

Lee Westwood, right, celebrates with Billy Foster, his caddie, after winning the Dubai World Championship in 2009.
Lee Westwood, right, celebrates with Billy Foster, his caddie, after winning the Dubai World Championship in 2009.

It is said that every dog has its day and for Lee Westwood's feisty caddie Billy Foster that day is now.

The straight-talking Yorkshireman has previously worked with Seve Ballesteros and Tiger Woods, among others, but it is only this year he has truly cashed in following fellow Briton Westwood's stunning rise to the top of the world rankings.

"If you had asked me two years ago whether I think he can be No 1 in the world, I'd be lying if I said the answer was yes," Foster said.

"That's a testament to Lee and how he's dedicated himself and his focus, and he is possibly now one of the fittest golfers out there."

A few years ago, Foster conceded, Westwood was not known for his workout routine.

"He has put in a fantastic effort on the fitness front and is reaping the rewards," Foster said. "He has improved in all departments.

"When I started working with him (in May 2009) I didn't think he'd be as good as he is now. He has moved on to another level and you feel now he is almost guaranteed to finish in the top five every single week."

Foster, 44, has caddied for years, but his life has not always been a walk in the park. He can remember a time when money was so tight he had to sleep rough.

Westwood earned €3.2 million (Dh15.3m) on the European Tour alone in 2010, and with caddies taking a cut of between five and 10 per cent, and earning bonuses for good results, that adds up to a princely sum for Foster.

"The caddying game has changed," he said. "The first 10 years I did it, I probably never made a penny.

"I remember working for [Zimbabwean] Tony Johnstone at the Portuguese Open in the 1980s and we finished around seventh and won about US$1,390. I got five per cent of that and had to pay for my travel, hotel, everything.

"I couldn't afford to fly in those days. I used to get overnight buses, sleep on trains and I slept in a bush one night. These days I can afford to fly everywhere, stay in a decent hotel, drive a nice car. Since Tiger came along, money's gone through the roof and the caddies are earning a lot more than they used to."

Foster teamed up with Woods in 2005 when the former world No 1 took him on loan from Darren Clarke for the Presidents Cup match.

"We only worked together for a week," Foster said. "It was about 10 years after I worked with Seve but that was the first time I had felt the same aura about a player since.

"I said to Tiger I would never swap lives, with all the hassle and focus on his life. You've got to appreciate how difficult it is for him.

"He was a true gentleman. His manners, and respect for me, were bizarre - everything he said was with a please and a thank you and I just thought he was true class on the golf course."

Woods was a special player then, even up close.

"I remember one hole we had 142 yards to carry up a hill into a little bit of a breeze and I knew he hit a pitching wedge around 130 yards. He pulled a pitching wedge out and I said, 'You sure that's enough?' But he said it would be fine.

"It went as high in the air as it went forward and finished six inches from the hole. As we walked up to the green I asked him how he did it and he said, 'Don't worry, Billy, I've got another gear when I need it.' That's what makes people special."

Foster also enjoyed a memorable working relationship with the brilliant Ballesteros.

"Seve was a great experience in my life," he said. "I started with him in 1990 when I was 24 and caddied for him for five years.

"He was the world's dominant player in the previous decade and just being with him and witnessing the aura around him and his course-management skills, I learned a lot.

"I could talk all day about his unbelievable vision and the magical skills he had when he was in trouble. He didn't often ignore my advice and we gelled very well as a team, much like I do with Lee now," added Foster.

"I spoke my mind at times and he did the same to me. I've got special memories I will treasure for ever."