By Brian Keogh
The world’s toughest jobs include occupations such as salt miner, killer bee remover and alligator wrangler.
Until the second round of the US PGA Championship at Southern Hills, they also included Billy Foster’s role as caddie to the tempestuous Darren Clarke.
"They are all on a par, those jobs," Foster chuckles. "But when you work for a guy for such a long time you have mutual respect for each other. He is a very generous man and he's always been very fair. He very rarely blames me. He is very honest.
"Some players get on the caddie when the caddie doesn't deserve it but he has always been fair. He just expects you to give 100 percent and I try to never give anything less than 100 percent. We all make mistakes and I am big enough to stand up and accept the odd mistake, but he knows I try my best every week."
Foster has had several offers from top players over the last few years, though rumours of a move to Tiger Woods are purely that, rumours.
"I had a couple of opportunities to leave him for top players but I have sort of stuck by him," Foster says. "He has been kicked in the nuts enough. For the present I have decided to stick by him and hopefully he can turn it around.
"The hardest bit to take is the slump he is in a the moment. That's very difficult to take because the game came easy years ago, but now it's not. It's very tough. It's hard when the two of us are putting in a lot of effort and getting no results."
A plain-talking Yorkshireman, Foster has a rhinoceros-like skin after toting the clubs for employers such as Seve Ballesteros and Thomas Bjorn. But his relationship with Clarke goes beyond mere work and he took immense satisfaction from watching the beleaguered Ulsterman catch a glimpse of some light at the end of a dark tunnel with a second round 66 in the US PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa this summer.
“I never stopped biting his head off all the way round,” Foster explained after the boss had made a miraculous recovery from his opening 77 to make just his first cut in a major since last season’s US Open. “I was saying to him: We're sick of losing, we're sick of losing. Do me a favour today. Do it for yourself and do it for me. I want you to shoot the lowest round of the day."
Clarke didn't quite do that, though that round still represents his best effort on tour since he shot 65 in the second round of last year's Barclays Scottish Open.
"Sometimes it is difficult to gee him up and you have to be a bit of a Jack Russell and keep gnarling at him," Foster says.
A close friend, Foster is far too loyal to go as far as suggesting that Clarke's best year are behind him. Still, he admits that he has some way to go before scaling the heights of 2000, when he beat Woods in that World Match Play final at La Costa.
"He played his best golf in the late 90s, or maybe in 2000 and 2001," Foster says. "He could have won a couple of Opens, couldn't he. He played well enough to win them but he just didn't hole the putts on the day.
"His putting wasn't the problem though. I'd say that his wedge play probably wasn't good enough. It's better now though. He's certainly one of the best drivers of the golf ball I've ever seen."