Billy Foster caddies for Lee Westwood
Pair finished 2nd in 2010, tied 3rd in 2012
Foster working his 21st Masters this week
Augusta National hosting 80th Masters
White boiler suits are a uniform of honest toil, but wearing one at Augusta National comes with a distinct perk.
The unmistakeable overalls are the traditional garb of Augusta’s caddies – the cadre of faithful lieutenants who will follow, guide and cajole their man uphill and down dale across the exclusive Georgia greensward.
The outfit may not denote a position of high office like a green jacket – caddies are still not allowed in the clubhouse – but it facilitates something money can’t buy: Inside-the-ropes access at the Masters.
One man with a golden ticket is Englishman Billy Foster, caddie for former world No. 1 Lee Westwood, who will return for his 21st year in the suit this week.
“It can be pretty uncomfortable and pretty hot,” Foster told CNN. “It’s thicker than they look on TV, like a painter and decorator’s suit. I’d rather wear my own shorts, but it makes Augusta what it is, I suppose.”
Foster, who is from Yorkshire in the north of England, began caddying as a 16-year-old in 1983, the same year Augusta allowed players to bring their regular tour caddies instead of employing one of the local black “loopers.”
He first went to Augusta in 1991 as bagman for swashbuckling Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, who had won the Masters in 1980 and 1983.
They turned up on the Saturday before the tournament, turning off the concrete strip of Washington Road, with its neon signs, fast-food joints, motels and bars, into the hush of Augusta National’s Magnolia Lane.
“You could be in a different country within the space of 100 yards,” said Foster.
“It was just the sheer tranquility of place, there was such an aura, so unique and beautiful.
“We went out for a practice round on our own and were out there for seven hours. I felt like I knew it like the back of my hand after that.”
This year Foster will get into Georgia’s second biggest city on the Sunday evening after flying up from the Houston Open with Westwood.
Home is a 10-minute walk from the course, an old Augusta house shared with Rory McIlroy’s bagman JP Fitzgerald, Graeme McDowell’s caddie Ken Comboy, and Cayce Kerr, who works for Vijay Singh.
“We stay at a little place we’ve rented for 20 years, off an old nun named Mrs Joyce Culpepper,” says Foster.
Mrs Culpepper died in 2010 but she used to move to a cottage in the garden allowing “the boys,” as she called them, the run of her house.
They would cook for her and do odd jobs, and each year when they left they would write a thank you note on the chalkboard. When they returned in 2011 their final message was still there.
“In her will she left her house to her niece, but on one condition: she could live there 51 weeks of the year, but for the week of the Masters she had to let us caddies go back. So we obviously left some sort of impression.”
Foster will get to the course early on Monday morning, to catch up on the banter and climb into the suit – worn against the skin.
“Just a pair of underpants, no shirt, no shorts,” he says. “It’s roasting out there sometimes.”
The caddies are well catered for these days, with food, drinks, showers and TVs, in a new facility near the redeveloped driving range. “In years gone by there weren’t even doors on the toilets,” says Foster.
‘Like a navigator for a rally driver’
When Westwood turns up they will play a “pretty relaxed” 18 holes, followed by nine on Tuesday and nine on Wednesday, just to get a feel for how the course is playing and update their notebooks – one general one and a more detailed one for Augusta’s devilish greens.
“You are like a navigator for a rally driver, trying to give them all the information to end up with the right club,” says Foster, who often gets Wednesday afternoons off if Westwood has a guest caddie for the pre-Masters Par-3 event.
In the evenings, Foster and “the boys” will frequent their favorite restaurant TBonz Steakhouse on Washington Road, or cook in and have a couple of beers at home.