BROOKLINE, Mass. — A cardinal rule in golf says you never root for an opponent to miss a putt. So on the 18th green at the U.S. Open on Sunday, Matt Fitzpatrick’s caddie was doing his damnedest not to root for Will Zalatoris to miss his attempt at a birdie that would have forced a playoff.
Billy Foster confessed that it wasn’t easy. He’s been caddying for four decades, you see, and he had never won a major championship.
When Zalatoris went slightly wide left, Foster admitted it was “a big relief to see it miss.”
“I had a gorilla jump off my back,” he told The Post at the end of the championship ceremony on the 18th green. “Not a monkey, a gorilla.”
Foster was standing near his man’s bag while the 27-year-old Englishman, Fitzpatrick, was holding the U.S. Open trophy nearby. As the 2013 U.S. Amateur champ at The Country Club, Fitzpatrick joined Jack Nicklaus as the only men to win the Amateur and the U.S. Open on the same course.
And yet the first-time major winner almost seemed more taken by his caddie’s breakthrough.
“It means the world to Billy,” Fitzpatrick said. “I can’t tell you how much it means to Billy. It’s unbelievable. I know it’s something he’s wanted for a long, long, long time. To do it today is incredible.”
Foster had worked for Seve Ballesteros, Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn, and Lee Westwood, who split with his longtime caddie in 2018, leading to Foster’s partnership with Fitzpatrick. Asked by The Post to name his major championship near-misses that hurt the most, Foster cited Bjorn’s bunker disaster on the 16th hole of the Open Championship in 2013, when the leader gifted the Claret Jug to Ben Curtis.
“He left it in that bunker a few times and that really broke my heart,” Foster said. “Westy went close on numerous occasions, like when Phil [Mickelson] beat Lee at the Masters in 2010, and then Lee’s loss at Turnberry in 2009, when he was one shot out of the Tom Watson and Stewart Cink playoff.
“I’ve been caddying for 40 years, so this is just one massive relief to be quite honest.”
For a while Sunday, Foster thought he had very little chance of feeling endgame relief at the same course where he’d caddied for Clarke in Europe’s stunning Ryder Cup loss in 1999.
“It’s an unbelievable golf course, and you’ve got to think on every shot,” he said. “It’s very mentally draining. … Matthew is a great putter, and he didn’t putt very well today. He holed an absolute bomb on 13, but up until then he missed three or four five-footers, which is not like him. And I thought it was slipping away when we went two behind.”
But Fitzpatrick fought back and regained his lead with his birdies on 13 and 15. Ahead by one stroke on the 18th tee, Fitzpatrick compromised his chances by putting his tee shot in a perilous bunker on the left. Foster offered him extensive counsel on the second shot, standing behind the bunker and pointing out a target for his man to aim at.
“There was a lip in front of him, so I wanted him to try to go left and cut it in,” the caddie said. “I was just getting a line behind that green that was going to miss the mound in front of him, and I picked out a tree that was 5 yards inside the left of the green, and just cut it off the tree. And he hit a wonderful shot.”
Fitzpatrick’s sweet nine-iron out of the sand gave him the easiest of two-putt pars, and then he waited for Zalatoris to make or miss. After the miss, Foster lowered his head and grabbed his cap while his player looked at him with hand on hip. The emotional caddie tugged his cap over his face, then Fitzpatrick approached, wrapped his right arm around him, shouted something in his ear, and laughed. Foster pulled off his cap, and the caddie and player embraced.
Foster would grab his head with both hands in disbelief. He would kiss the flag, remove the stick from the cup, and survey it with great affection.
That major-championship gorilla would have to find a new home on a different back.