Foster out to break Sandwich curse
Caddie without a major win recalls fateful day eight years ago when his charge Bjorn blew The Open
Thomas Bjorn will not be the only one at Sandwich this week taking a rueful peek into the bunker where his Claret Jug dream went up in a hail of yellow eight years ago. On the Dane's bag that fateful day was Billy Foster, rated as one of the game's best caddies but still waiting for his first major.
Indeed Foster, a highly personable Yorkshireman, has already revisited the sight of one of The Open's most agonising moments. On Monday, he was at Sandwich with his current employer, Lee Westwood, who reported that Foster could not resist grabbing his sand-wedge. "Yeah, Billy had a go in that trap," said the world No 2. "He left it in there as well."
How the memories came back for Foster. "It was a horrendous feeling, like a dagger through the heart," he said. "I've been to every Open since 1975, caddied in the last 30, and it means everything to me. I've been fortunate enough to work for great champions, but I'd give up every tournament I've ever won to caddy for the guy who wins the Claret Jug."
Foster's CV is a veritable roll call of talent. Severiano Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia, Darren Clarke, Westwood, even Tiger Woods for one week. It is remarkable he remains majorless and even though Westwood has finished in The Open's top three for the last two years, the closest Foster ever came to the trophy which means most was with Bjorn in 2003.
With four holes remaining, Bjorn was three strokes clear. But then, a bogey on the 15th allowed in a glimmer of light to his rivals and within five shots this became a great shaft. An hour later, The Open was toasting Ben Curtis, the most unlikely winner in its 150-year history. By then Bjorn was struggling to come to terms with the collapse. As was his caddy.
"I'm not joking I thought about it every day for six months afterwards," said Foster. "It's funny but people never remember that on the first day he [Bjorn] left it in a bunker on the 17th and smacked the sand in frustration. With the two penalty shots he picked up for that, Thomas took an eight and ended up losing by one. Thomas had the fewest hits of anyone in the field and I'll take that to the grave if I never manage to caddy for the winner."
As consolation it can't mean a great deal, particularly when he recounts the nightmare on the 163-yard par three. The warning signs came just after daybreak. "I walked the course at about 7am for my reckie and I've still got the notes to prove it but on the 16th I put a big cross in the middle of the green, for Thomas to aim 15 yards left of the hole," said Foster. "I looked in that bunker and there was more sand in it than any other bunker on the course. It just had nightmare written all over it.
"Well, when he stood on that tee, the last thing I said to him was, 'Thomas, TV tower, middle of the green, nowhere else'. But his swing just got a little bit short, he got slightlyahead of it and it set off straight for the pin. I was screaming 'no!' when the ball had only gone 20 yards."
Foster's wail was justified. Bjorn was right where he shouldn't be, right where Lady Luck could do her worst. "His first bunker shot was about six inches from being stiff," said Foster. "It needed to just roll another three or four turns, but it stopped and started to roll back to his feet. He probably played the next one a little quick and I didn't have time to get over to him. But I got over for the third and it was a bomb-site. He did well to get up and down. I honestly thought he might take 10. But I still felt physicallysick walking to the 17th tee."
Bjorn bogeyed that penultimate hole and Curtis was in wonderland. Bjorn, now 40, has yet to win a major and as first reserve this week must hope for his chance. With Westwood, Foster has an obvious opportunity of exorcising the demons. Yet until he does, Sandwich will always read sand-wedge.
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