Billy Foster: Exclusive
The record-breaking caddie on Seve, Tiger, Olazabal, Westwood and the agony of missing this year's Ryder Cup
By Dave Tindall. Last Updated: 24/09/12 5:07pm
The Ryder Cup will be missing one of its most familiar faces at Medinah this year - caddie Billy Foster.
The Yorkshireman has been part of the European camp since 1987 and his 11 Ryder Cup appearances is a record for any bagman.
He caddied for the great Seve Ballesteros at the 1991 and 1993 Ryder Cups, was on Darren Clarke's bag in 2006 for those scenes of incredible emotion at the K Club and last time helped Lee Westwood and Europe regain the trophy at Celtic Manor.
This year though he'll be a frustrated spectator.
Rather than team up again with Westwood and prove his weight in gold as the European locker room's court jester, Foster will be sat in his West Yorkshire home with his right-leg in a brace.
An injury sustained whilst playing football (the game hadn't even started when his knee gave way) means that Foster will be absent for only the second time in 25 years (a fall-out with his dear friend Seve ahead of the 1995 Ryder Cup the only other gap on his CV).
Europe will miss him but, as he reveals in this exclusive interview, out of sight won't mean out of mind.
Sky Sports: First of all, Billy, how's the knee?
Billy Foster: It's not great. I've just had another operation last Wednesday. I've done absolutely nothing for four-and-a-half months. Basically, I had the first operation on the 8th of May and, after a few weeks, I started to do quite a bit of exercising, walking in a swimming pool but it just hasn't felt right. I really struggled to straighten my leg and, reading between the lines, I've had a lot of scare tissue built up on my joint and it's just seized it up. So I went in last week to see the specialist again and he operated again and cleaned out all the scar tissue and it feels miles better straight away. It's obviously set me back. It's going to be the rest of the season off probably. It feels a bit sore after the operation but at least I can straighten it again now and I feel as though I can move forward from here.
Billy has just had a second operation on his right leg.
Sky Sports: At what point did you realise you wouldn't be making it to Medinah with Lee?
BF: Pretty early really. Steve McGregor, who looks after Lee, has worked in the football industry quite a lot and I think he explained to Lee that this isn't a short-term injury, a cruciate ligament. If I rushed back there's a chance that I could stitch myself up long-term. You look at somebody like (Nemanja) Vidic, it's just taken him nine months to return and he's a big, strapping, fit lad who gets the best of treatment every day at Manchester United so for me to get back in five months... it wasn't going to happen really. I realised that fairly early doors but the first crushing blow was not being able to caddie in The Open at Lytham. We thought I had a chance to be back for the Ryder Cup but after a month it came pretty apparent that I wouldn't' be caddying at Medinah and would be unlikely to for the rest of this year. I've been trying to get my head around that for the last two or three months. It's tough. I'm in dark tunnel at the minute and I can't see the light. But, it's all character building, isn't it. I'll come back bigger and better for it hopefully.
Sky Sports: So I guess you'll be watching our coverage instead?
BF: I will, yeah. It'll be frustrating not being there as it would have been my 12th Ryder Cup. I've been part of the furniture since 1987. It'll be tough because I love it. If there's two tournaments that you want to be in it's The Open and the Ryder Cup. But I've always said the Ryder Cup makes the Masters and The Open feel like a Monthly Medal regarding atmosphere. It is the special one that I love to be involved in so it's really very frustrating and disappointing that I can't be there.
Sky Sports: Going back to your first Ryder Cup in 1987 and what a way to start - Europe's first win on US soil.
BF: Yes. They'd obviously gone close in '83 at West Palm Beach and won it at The Belfry. At that stage we'd probably got five or six of the world's best players with Seve, Langer, Faldo, Woosie, Lyle etc so it was a very, very strong team. I was 21 and I'd never been to America before and it was a great experience and a great grounding to witness that close up first-hand. An experience I'll never forget.
Sky Sports: Was there a caddie who perhaps took you under his wing given that you were so young?
BF: No, not really. Once you get to a Ryder Cup you can't explain the bond. It's a them against us situation and even fellas that you might not know or certain players might not particularly like other players but that particular week the bonding is so close and the European spirit is second to nine. You all muck in together and you're all in the trenches basically. I've been in the other locker room when I caddied for Tiger in the 2005 Presidents Cup. It's a massive difference what goes on inside the locker rooms. The European's is much louder and raucous, singing songs etc. It just seems a lot more subdued in the American camp.
A photo montage of Billy with Bill Clinton and Tiger Woods at the 2005 Presidents Cup. Tiger asked Billy to step in when Steve Williams pulled out.
Sky Sports: When you caddied for Tiger, did he strike you as someone who was good in a team atmosphere because there's this criticism that he thinks about his individual performance first.
BF: Yes, I thought he was decent. He was fine. I'd defend him with regard to thinking about himself. He did his best for the team. He wasn't playing his best golf then and it was a bit like caddying for Seve a bit as he was all over the place! But he gave it his best. He's a very proud golfer and I wouldn't suggest for a minute that he thinks about himself first. He gives his best for the American team.
Sky Sports: Talking about proud golfers, you twice caddied for Seve in Ryder Cups. That must have been pretty amazing.
The young Billy with Seve at Kiawah Island in 1991.
BF: Very special, yes. There's been no man with so much desire, commitment and passion for the Ryder Cup. And I very much doubt there'll be another player that shows the same spirit and passion. Basically, Seve's made the Ryder Cup. He fought the European cause over there and his passion and spirit's shone through and I think it still does to this day. With Jose (Maria Olazabal) being there this time, he'll instil that same passion and commitment.
Sky Sports: You were also on the bag of Darren Clarke in 2006. Was that the highlight of your 11 Ryder Cups given all the emotion surrounding that event?
BF: Yes, for me it was definitely the most special Ryder Cup, regarding atmosphere and all that had gone on with Darren. He only committed himself to the tournament two or three weeks beforehand as Heather had died only six weeks previous so it was very raw. The occasion and atmosphere was very special. The Irish crowd were magnificent. I've never experienced noise on a golf course like it and never will again. It was tremendous.
Sky Sports: You've got a reputation as a bit of a practical joker and there's an incident in the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills where you pinched Thomas Bjorn's buggy. Tell us more!
The buggy incident at the 2004 Ryder Cup.
BF: It was off the 12th tee, an elevated tee. Thomas had walked back to the tee and I'd seen his buggy at the bottom of the hill. As they all teed off I ran down the hill, jumped on the buggy and sped off in it. I was carrying a golf bag so I was stood up and it was like a scene out of Benny Hill. I was driving down the fairway and I had all these people chasing after me. They were getting closer so I put my foot down and accelerated away from them but the floor of the buggy was incredibly slippy so I cartwheeled out of this buggy, did a triple somersault and landed on my head with a bag on top of me. The buggy flew off into the crowd and it was like the parting of the seas as this buggy went whizzing through the crowd and into the trees. I was thinking, Jesus, this could have been a multi-million dollar lawsuit for killing three Yanks! But I got away with it. Everyone saw the funny side of it. It's just one of the many stupid things I get up to.
Sky Sports: But I guess all that sort of thing helps with team-building?
BF: Yeah, I've always enjoyed the camaraderie and the p*ss taking. I like to get my jester's hat on in the locker room and stir them up and sing songs and carry on like an idiot. Yeah, I'll miss it this year.
Sky Sports: Looking at this year's Ryder Cup, how good a skipper do you think Jose Maria Olazabal will make?
BF: He'll be the best skipper there's ever been. End of. Irrelevant of the result. He's phoned me twice in the last couple of weeks which has been very touching for me. He said he's very sorry that I can't come and he's told me keep the faith and keep the light burning. He actually phoned me again yesterday to see how the operation went and he said he'll phone me from the Ryder Cup. Just a lovely touch from Jose. He's a man with passion and desire for the Ryder Cup and it's only matched by Seve really. I was in the locker room in 2008 at Valhalla and I was sat next to Jose. Nick Faldo gave his speech on the Saturday night before the singles but that passion and desire didn't seem to wear with me so I kicked Jose under the table and said: "You've got to get up and say something." He stood up and gave a 15-minute speech and, to say English is his second language, the speech he gave... I mean he had half the players in tears. The passion and the commitment he's got for the cause is absolutely brilliant. There won't be a better man for the job.
Sky Sports: How do you think Davis Love will perform?
BF: Davis will be fine. At the end of the day it'll be down to the players though and I think there's two very strong, equally matched teams. He's obviously got good experience with his back-up staff and Davis is a gentleman and he'll do everything the right way. I've a lot of respect for him. He'll be a good captain but ultimately it's down to the players. From three or four years ago, you're thinking where are these good players going to come from but they've got a really strong team this time and it's going to be tough for the lads to bring back the cup but equally we've got a very strong team as well.
Sky Sports: How good is this particular European team
BF: It's very strong, all the way through to the wildcards. I'm quite excited by Nicolas Colsaerts, I'm glad he got on the team. And Poulter's Poulter isn't he. He probably doesn't show the best of form at times throughout the year but when it comes down to it, he finished third in the PGA Championship, and he's a Jack Russell let off his lead at the Ryder Cup. He just loves it. There won't be a tougher man out there.
Sky Sports: Who will be the American standouts?
BF: All their debutants are great putters. Dufner's been up there a lot in big tournaments the last 18 months. Webb Simpson - great putter, great short game. Snedeker - allegedly the best putter out there and Keegan Bradley I rate big-time. I think he's a tremendous player. He's got a lot of game. All those lads are great putters and that's what it comes down to, ultimately, over one round of golf.
Sky Sports: Medinah is a very long golf course. Will that suit one side or another?
BF: Not really. I don't read too much into the length aspect of things really. The last decade you always seem to think that the Americans have got the top bombers but it never really shapes up that way. Ultimately it's going to come down to who's got the biggest balls and who holes the putts.
Sky Sports: Both teams appear to have plenty of options with their pairings. Who could be the key ones?
Billy says Westwood and Donald will make a dream foursomes pairing again.
BF: I always said that Seve and Ollie were the Ryder Cup dream team and that God and Jesus would struggle to beat them. But at Celtic Manor I actually saw with Westwood and Donald in foursomes, there was a team that could match them. I'd be amazed if Lee and Luke don't play together in foursomes because that is your dream team. Westwood's so straight, so solid and Luke... get him on the green and he never misses a putt, does he. A very strong combination for us is that, as is G-Mac and Rory. I'll be amazed if they don't play together because they're brothers in arms aren't they.
Sky Sports: And a prediction?
BF: It's hard to predict a result. It'll come down to the last couple of matches. It could go either way and I think it'll be the usual, a point in it either way. If you'd asked me four years ago I'd have said Europe would win easily but this is the toss of a coin. We've got a very strong team though so fingers crossed we can nick it.
Sky Sports: Many thanks Billy and hope the leg gets better soon.