By Alex Narey
The Greatest Shot I Saw: Billy Foster Recalls The Magic Of Seve Ballesteros
Billy Foster has forged a hugely successful career as one of golf's most respected bagmen.
The straight-talking Yorkshireman – who turned to caddying in 1983 after working with his father as a joiner – is able to reel off a client list that includes Thomas Bjorn, Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia as well as his current employer, Matt Fitzpatrick.
But Foster's career may well have reached its ‘Everest’ over 30 years ago when he was asked to take the bag of the great Seve Ballesteros.
“It was a great experience,” Foster told Golf Monthly. “I grew up going to every Open Championship from the age of nine in 1975, so Seve Ballesteros was my golfing hero – like he was for most people of my generation.”
Foster’s relationship with Seve was sparked just as he was looking to turn his back on the caddying trade. It was 1990 and he had given Gordon Brand Jnr notice that he was leaving to take an assistant pro job at Ilkley Golf Club.
Then, as the season drew to its close, Foster was approached by Ballesteros at the German Masters and a week later a letter arrived at his parents’ house outlining terms: I like your style; Don’t talk to the press; I always have the final word.
Foster said: “To think that a young lad from Yorkshire, a half decent player but not great, working with my dad as an apprentice joiner for £20 a week and getting sacked three times a week, ended up caddying for my boyhood hero was surreal really.
“[It was] a great honour to caddie for the great man, and I spent five wonderful years of my life learning lots about the game and getting lots of bollockings.
“You never knew exactly what you were going to get but you always knew you were going to get excitement and see a couple of wonder shots that you couldn’t imagine playing.
“It was a special, special period of my life that I’ll never forget, and I learnt so much about the game – the attitude, the desire, the passion.
“On the golf course he was a warrior, the ultimate warrior.”
Ballesteros was not the force he had been – his last Major win came at the 1988 Open at Royal Lytham – but Foster would still enjoy a front-row seat as the Spaniard reeled off the magic in typically charismatic fashion.
And no moment sums up Seve like the one Foster witnessed at Crans-Sur-Sierre during the European Masters in 1993.
Having blitzed his way into contention with a back-nine birdie run, Ballesteros pushed his drive right on the final hole and was left with a seemingly impossible shot over a wall with trees also blocking his path.
Any other player would have swallowed their medicine… but not Seve. A small gap presented an opportunity and that was all he needed.
Foster suggested a different approach: “Just chip it out, wedge it onto the green and we still have a chance.”
But Ballesteros called for his wedge and waved his man away before hitting what Foster calls “the greatest shot I ever saw” as the ball flew over the wall and above the pines to land just short of the green.
A typical chip-in birdie followed and despite Barry Lane edging home to win the tournament by one shot, the Spaniard had once again written his own piece of golfing folklore.
“It wasn’t just that shot in Switzerland; it happened on a regular basis,” Foster said.
“Ninety per cent of the time I loved him, ten per cent of the time I wanted to headbutt him.
“That was the nature of the job. He was very stubborn, he was never wrong, it was always the caddie’s fault. I knew when it wasn’t, I had to fight fire with fire.
“If you lasted five holes with Seve you were doing okay, so five years was a pretty good effort.
“I think the reason we got on so well was I had that bit of fire in my belly as well to stand up to him and I wasn’t scared to say what I thought. I think he respected that.”
Alex began his journalism career in regional newspapers in 2001 and moved to the Press Association four years later. He spent three years working at Dennis Publishing before first joining Golf Monthly, where he was on the staff from 2008 to 2015 as the brand's managing editor, overseeing the day-to-day running of our award-winning magazine while also contributing across various digital platforms. A specialist in news and feature content, he has interviewed many of the world's top golfers and returns to Golf Monthly after a three-year stint working on the Daily Telegraph's sports desk. His current role is diverse as he undertakes a number of duties, from managing creative solutions campaigns in both digital and print to writing long-form features for the magazine. Alex has enjoyed a life-long passion for golf and currently plays to a handicap of 13 at Tylney Park Golf Club in Hampshire.
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