ST ANDREWS, September 1, 2016 – Stand by for rising decibel levels next month at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship when Andrew Johnston strides down the fairways of St Andrews.
Johnston, a.k.a. ‘Beef’, is probably the nearest thing golf has to a cult following at the moment, after an extraordinary summer in which apparently sane golf fans have been booming out ‘Beef’ whenever the 27-year-old Englishman gets within a sand wedge of them.
But it’s not just Johnston’s voluminous fuzzy beard or his unusual nickname that has excited the galleries. This guy can really play, and has had a brilliant 2016 to prove it, with his first European Tour win at the Spanish Open and excellent showings in the US Open, the US PGA Championship and the Open Championship at Troon, where he finished eighth. Why Beef? He explains: “When I was a kid, I’d grow my hair out. I’m quarter Jamaican, so it goes curly. So one of my friends said ‘look at your head, it looks like a big bit of beef. You’ve got a beef head.’ And honestly it just stuck. Now everyone calls me Beef.”
And Johnston (Beef) is happy with the recognition it has brought. “I love it. It’s amazing. And it means so much to me. It started at the US Open, but things really went mad at The Open in July, and it carried on at the USPGA at Baltusrol last month. It was crazy. The crowds all week, everyone shouting ‘Beef’.
“I love interacting with the crowd, signing the kids’ autographs and chatting to them when I have time. I’m quite outgoing, so I guess it comes naturally.
“My goal this year was to win, so Spain was a very special moment, but The Open was so good, a great learning experience. Walking up 18 on Sunday was the best thing ever.” Johnston has played in the Alfred Dunhill Links twice and says he really enjoys the format. “It’s different, it’s cool and you get to meet legends – sport, showbiz, Hollywood.” In the Team Championship he has partnered two footballers, Alan Hansen in 2014 and Ruud Gullit last year. He says 2014 keeps coming back to haunt him in the shape of former Scotland footballer and TV pundit Hansen.
“I shot 9-under on the third day at Kingsbarns, which I thought was pretty good, but I missed a short birdie putt to make the cut and get me and Alan into the Team Championship on the last day. He hammers me for it every time I see him. I don’t think he’ll ever let me forget it.”
Now that he is a winner, what are his goals for St Andrews and the rest of the year? “I always felt I could win, but actually going over the line in Spain and now knowing I can do it makes it different, more real. I want to finish the year strong and try to win again if I can.
“It would be great if it could be in the Dunhill. I really enjoy links golf and the variety of the courses we play. I love the history of the Old Course, the views at Kingsbarns, but my favourite is Carnoustie. It’s tough, but I love the challenge of taking it on.”