Foster's long, injury-riddled road leads to Open
GULLANE, Scotland -- When Brendan Grace steps on the course at Murifield Monday it will be only the second time in his career, the first time came just a week ago when he was on a reconnaissance and get-to-know-you mission.
The scouting mission was to see a course that Old Tom Morris laid out and Harry Colt made famous with an ingenious routing. The get-to-know-you part was to get better acquainted with his caddie for the next two weeks, Billy Foster.
For Foster, his knowledge of the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfer’s course comes from having caddied three previous times at Muirfield for Gordon Brand Jr. during his heyday, three-time Open champion Seve Ballesteros and 2011 Open winner Darren Clarke.
For Foster, who missed last year's Open championship, making the trip to Muirfield is part of a long trip back to caddying.
Foster was having what he called a kick-around with fellow caddies the week of the Wells Fargo Championship last May and stood in a hole.
The misstep snapped his ACL as well as tearing his lateral ligament and meniscus on his right leg.
The surgery to repair the original injuries was in May 2012 in the U.K. But that was only the beginning with subsequent surgeries needed to clean up scar tissue from the original surgery in September and then to repair a torn meniscus in January.
“You can't really describe it until it's actually happened to you,” Foster said of the ordeal of rehabbing on your own with no income coming in and your future in limbo.
“It was just weird not being able to do anything. And even just play with the kids, and pardon the pun, but going out for a kick in the garden with my son, you can't do it. It's just so frustrating not being able to do things. It was really very tough mentally.”
Foster said his sense of humor got him through the ordeal, but at the same time the 14 months he was at home was his longest stretch in 30 years and the possibility that a caddying career that started 1982 could have come to an end crossed his mind.
“The mental trauma and such that your mind goes through, just the boredom of sitting there for months on end looking out on the pissing rain,” Foster said. “The kids go to school, your wife goes out, and you just sit there on your own and you feel like you've got a straitjacket on, and your leg feels like it's getting there and then you have another setback, and then you have another setback, and you do think, 'Will I ever be able to do the job again?'”
On top of the uncertainty of when and if he would return, Foster had to deal with whom he would be working for when he did make it back.
Over the last couple of years Foster was on Lee Westwood’s bag, but Westwood decided to move on in October, breaking up a successful and lucrative relationship.
“He needed clarity and wanted to focus on the Masters,” Foster said understandingly of Westwood’s decision to make a permanent caddy change. “Very disappointing from my side of things, but I can't be bent and twisted about it. I have to understand the situation, and I just have to dust myself down and bounce back. You never say never because who knows what'll happen in the future. I just need to work out and get on with my life, and what comes along will come along."
The Yorkshire man made his return to the European Tour at Wentworth in May with Thomas Bjorn. The duo had been together in the past, so it was comfortable for Foster as they cruised to a T-40 finish at the BMW PGA Championship.
Foster would also be on Bjorn’s bag when he finished one shot behind winner Ernie Els at the BMW International Open in Munich.
“He could have won that tournament,” Foster said. “It was great to be back in the thick of it and doing the job that I love.”
Able to pick and choose, Foster took IMG’s phone call about hooking up with Grace.
For Grace, the need for a caddie occurred when his regular caddy Zach Rasego returned to South Africa due to a family illness.
The loss of Rasego could have been devastating since he was the one on the bag when Louis Oosthuizen sailed around St. Andrews in 2010 to a seven-shot victory.
“Obviously Zach has been great on the bag, but things happen, and it's just one of those where I'm fortunate enough to get somebody with all the experience and knowledge like Billy on the bag,” Grace said before the start of the Scottish Open. “He's been with all the best out there, and I'm sure he's going to be a big help the next couple weeks and maybe we can win one of the next couple.”
Grace’s words were prophetic as the South African lost in a one-hole playoff to Phil Mickelson at Castle Stuart on Sunday, his best finish on the European Tour since winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last October.
So now with both Grace and Foster clearly feeling comfortable with one another, the Open Championship awaits and Foster is employed for another week, but come next Monday he will again be looking for a job.
“Maybe the bag that I want might not come along, but then you reevaluate the situation in a few months' time and maybe I won't be selective or might go down another path and do something else,” Foster said. “But at this stage my plan is to work for a few guys and hopefully wait for the right job that has the things that I want.”