Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston is one of the stand-out stars of 2016, but what is really like?
Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson may have stolen the headlines at The Open, but it was Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston who captured the hearts of the nation.
The 27-year-old admits he’s the antithesis of your typical modern-day sportsman, but that didn’t stop him gathering a huge following at Royal Troon – and an invite to next year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.
He may look like a lumberjack, complete with a bushy beard and beer belly, but beneath his larger-than-life personality lies a superb golfer.
He won his first European Tour title at the Spanish Open in April and followed that up with top 10s this summer at the BMW PGA Championship and then The Open.
Along the way, he’s hit a hamburger off a tee, been roared on by his five-year-old niece Summer at Troon, celebrated his victory in Spain by ‘getting hammered’ and dressing up as a piñata and ridden a rodeo bull for TG.
All that and more has made him one of golf’s most recognisable stars.
And judging by the permanent grin on his face, he’s loving every second of his new-found fame…
How has your life changed since the win in Spain?
It’s been absolutely crazy with the attention. The crowds go crackers now and you get some really funny and nice comments. There’s a positive vibe and I love playing to the galleries. One of my friends is travelling in Vietnam and told me they are talking about me over there. It’s just surreal.
How do you feel when crowds chant your name?
It’s an amazing feeling – I never dreamed of that, ever. The nicest thing about it is the messages
I get on social media. So many people send me videos of their kids hitting shots or tell me their kids won’t stop shouting ‘Beef’ in the house.
I never thought I could inspire people to play golf.
Are you now recognised wherever you go?
Westfield shopping centre was a real head turner. I had people asking for pictures and that was the first time I was really recognised outside of golf. That was quite mad but I guess I’m pretty easy to spot; I’ve got a beard and wear a snapback.
Has your new-found fame changed you as a person?
I’m the same guy. I’m not trying to be anything or do anything. I still play golf with the boys whenever I’m home, and I will chat to anyone because that’s my personality. I’m very easy going.
And you are still a member at North Middlesex Golf Club?
I love the place man. I grew up here and it’s my second home. I throw my weight around now as I’ve been here 18 years. Why would I want to go somewhere else? The only downside is that I get hammered by my mates because of all the shots I have to give them. The last time we played, I was eight under after 17 holes and lost!
When did your love affair with golf start?
I started playing when I was four. My dad would take me to hit some balls at the local field or pitch and putt. I joined North Middlesex when I was nine and he joined as well. He was good; he was off eight or nine I think. It took a while to beat him. I was probably 14 or 15 when I broke par for the first time. I represented the county and England boys too. I loved all of that and we had such a good team – me, Eddie Pepperell, Tommy Fleetwood and Matt Haines. I turned pro in 2009 and started playing the Jamega Tour and EuroPro. I got a couple of invites to Challenge Tour events, which was quite a big learning curve, but I had a few good finishes and I got my European Tour card in 2011. It probably came too soon and I qualified for The Open at St George’s. That was… different. I almost crapped my pants seeing all the stands and people with cameras. There is no other way I can describe it.
What was the turning point in your career?
I lost my European Tour card after a year but having two years on the Challenge Tour – one where I was injured for a long time – was kind of the turning point. I was in Portugal and got into a [European Tour] tournament in South Africa at the last minute. I got the call on the Monday, flew back to the UK on the Tuesday morning and flew to South Africa Tuesday night. We got there Wednesday morning and then we had to drive to Durban as well. I didn’t even see the course but I finished 18th. I got my first win on the Challenge Tour soon after that at the Scottish Hydro Challenge [in 2014], which was a massive step. A few weeks later, I won another one in France and was second in Kazakhstan. Before I knew it, I was top of the rankings for the Challenge Tour. I kept my European Tour card last year – it’s been a slow build up.
Yet you nearly gave it all up?
Definitely. Six years ago, I wasn’t sure whether I should carry on playing.
I went for a job interview at Knightsbridge. It was some kind of consultancy role, I’m not even too sure. There was no experience required so I just rocked up. I was sitting in Starbucks and the woman called me back and asked whether I wanted to come in for a week’s trial. In my heart it didn’t feel right so I said ‘I think I’ll carry on playing golf, sorry for wasting your time’. It was probably the best thing that happened to me – it helped me realise how much I love the game.
Has your mentality changed since winning at the Spanish Open?
I have never tried to play to make cuts, but you have to evaluate the situation. At Wentworth this year, I played really badly on Thursday and set myself a target of shooting a good score on Friday to prove I can do it next year. I played nicely, managed to sneak in on the cut line and finished 7th. I always try to keep really level headed. There are times when I have felt so confident and missed the cut, and others when I’ve not been happy with my game and I’ve been top 10.
How did you cope with playing in the penultimate group on Sunday at Troon?
It was wicked. I loved it. I wasn’t too nervous. The more I have been myself, the more I have just enjoyed it. You get 1st tee nerves, but it wasn’t anything crazy where I couldn’t deal with it. You just get used to it.
Jason Day cites Tiger Woods as a mentor. Has John Daly taken on that role for you?
Kind of. I get on with him really well. People may not realise, but he’s got a big heart. He’s a nice guy. We had a few drinks in Turkey and we were talking about my girlfriend travelling with me to tournaments. He said: ‘Just do it. Don’t worry about the money too much. You will see each other more and if you are happy, you will probably play better’. I came back to the UK, spoke to my manager Shaun, and arranged for Louise to travel with me. It’s worked out pretty good. John has won two Majors and has been around for a long time, so I’m always open to advice. He told me the other day that at Sawgrass the grain changes with the sun. That knowledge makes a big difference if you haven’t played somewhere.
Would you ever consider going down the fitness route like Rory McIlroy?
The funny thing is I get in the gym quite a lot and really enjoy it. The problem is it’s quite easy to lose that routine, especially with the amount of tournaments we play and travelling we do. My schedule over the last couple of months has been crazy busy but it goes through phases. Last year, I was training a lot and I pulled up a 201kg deadlift. The strength and power is there; I’m just a bit fat. I’ve been in America a lot and I’ve eaten far too much food and put on so much weight. I was in the gym this morning but I would say I’m a comfort eater. Whenever I’m tired or stressed out, I will go for the pulled pork rather than a salad. I don’t think I will ever be ripped or look like Hulk Hogan and The Rock. But it’s all about maintaining your strength and ensuring you stay injury free.
What do you do away from golf?
I love cartoons but generally I’m really active. After my rounds at the US PGA, I was shooting basketball and running and messing around. Where we were staying, there was a nice guy and his nine-year-old son who I was playing football and table tennis with. I just love playing sport and watching it. If I wasn’t playing golf, a PE teacher would be the perfect job because you could kick footballs at kids all day. If I was a PE teacher, the school would have the best goalkeepers ever seen!
What is your ultimate dream in golf?
A Major would be awesome, but holing the winning putt in the Ryder Cup would be great. The shirt would come off.
Have you got a celebration in mind for your next Tour victory? Could we see you jumping in a water hazard perhaps?
Not after [Thomas] Levet did it and broke his leg. I would make sure it’s deep. It would all be about the party when I’m back. The celebration I had at North Middlesex was epic [after the Spanish Open]. We left here about four in the morning. There were a couple of pints consumed… at least!
Do you think it is because people are able to relate to you that you have such a large fan base?
Maybe. I’m ultra competitive on the course. I take golf seriously, but you’ve got to enjoy it. I play with a smile on my face because we are really lucky people. It’s frustrating when you don’t get up and down or you hit a shot in the water, but there’s no need to worry about it. Things could be a lot worse. People need to lighten up a bit and have a joke. I love Family Guy and South Park for that reason. One of my favourite scenes in Family Guy is when they take the mickey out of the English. They are really old fashioned and have smashed up teeth and I find it hilarious. It’s a joke and it’s the same with South Park. It’s very controversial and sometimes you can’t believe it’s gone on telly. But they don’t mean it in an offensive way. It’s a shame we live in a world where everything is so politically correct and no-one really laughs at themselves anymore.
What do you think about some of the archaic attitudes in golf?
The whole membership stuff and not allowing ladies to play baffles me. What’s the big deal? I would rather have a place where everyone is involved, no matter who they are or where they are from. They’ve got to stop this whole stuffiness and get people playing. The more people playing, the better for the game. I have just started a foundation to raise money and get kids playing again. It will be 10 years this November since my dad passed away and he was just the same as me. He was obsessed with sport. He used to run the junior section here and there were five of us who turned pro. We need to get people excited about golf again. That’s what the foundation is all about.
Could we see your foundation hosting a tournament in the future?
It’s going to be a slow evolution. I also want to extend it into other sports too because if you have 100 kids, 10 might take to boxing, another 10 might enjoy cricket more and so on. I was lucky enough that I was able to try all kinds of sports growing up. I played football and found out I was bad at that. The same with cricket so in the end golf was the only one left! I had the chance to try everything but some kids aren’t as lucky. I want to give kids the same chance in life.
When you retire, how would you like to be remembered?