Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston: A Rare Breed

After a few years spent maturing on the Challenge Tour, winning titles and getting used to life as a professional golfer out on the road, Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston has become one of the most popular and recognisable players in the game. With his perma-smile, over-sized hillbilly beard and happy-go-lucky style, Beef, has become a hit with galleries around the world. The north Londoner is arguably the most down to earth straight-talker there is – but what would you expect from a guy whose nickname is ‘Beef’. 

“I used to have big hair when I was a kid – like an afro,” he said. “I was playing at North Middlesex once and one of my mates was saying, ‘Look at your huge head, it’s like a big bit of beef.’ He was calling me Beef Head and it’s just been shortened to ‘Beef’ ever since.”

The 27-year-old has plenty of reasons to smile about as he heads towards the business end of the season inside the top 20 on the Race to Dubai, but it’s been a tough road to the top, having struggled during his late teens.

Introduced to the game at the age of four by his late father, Noel, Beef was playing off scratch by the time he was 15, and by the age of 16 he was a member of the England Golf squad.

The affable youngster was making big strides but the sudden death of his father when he was 17 curtailed his development.

“I felt very lost for a while after that,” he recalls. “I hit a point at 19 when I was struggling for some time with it all and just thought, ‘I’ll turn pro now and see what happens’.”

What happened was he soon learned all about life as a touring professional the hard way. He learned that missing cuts meant losing money. In 2011 Johnston had a good year and earned his European Tour card via the Challenge Tour rankings.

He had a difficult rookie campaign at the top table and lost his status after finishing 163rd on the Race to Dubai. The following year he was beset by injuries and after 14 Challenge Tour events in 12 countries he had collected just over €20,000 in prize money.

“I learned a lot from that year because every week was a fight for survival, and every weekend I certainly knew that every Euro counted. I remember practicing in Portugal that December and I got down to the worst point I’d ever been,” said Johnston. “I wasn’t able to get anyone any Christmas presents. I had nothing.”

But then, a stroke of luck occurred. “I got a late call asking if I wanted to play a European Tour event as a reserve in South Africa so I flew back to England on Monday, flew to South Africa on Tuesday and arrived Wednesday.

 

beef-swing
1. Strong grip at address promotes a draw. 2. Controlled turn, with left shoulder rotating under his chin. 3. Wrist angle held late in the delivery and a quiet leg action enables Beef to add the power at impact. 4. Good extention through the ball at impact. 5. The club face continues towards the target, showing very little manipulation of the hands.

Sheer determination

“It was just sheer determination to make the cut so I could earn some money for Christmas. I finished 18th (shooting 68-67-68  and earning €11,840 in the rain-delayed event which was reduced to just three rounds) and from there on I knew I had the ability to do well at European Tour events.”

With renewed vigour, Johnston made a solid start to the 2014 Challenge Tour season with a third place finish in Spain in only his third event. He finished tied fifth at the Challenge de España in June and then two weeks later clinched his first professional title at the Scottish Hydro Challenge.

He hit a quick purple patch as back-to-back top tens followed, bookended with another victory at the Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge. His standing as the No.1 player on the Challenge Tour was strengthened by collecting €49,500 for his runner-up finish at the Kazakhstan Open (a cheque larger than both his victories) and he ended the campaign at the top of the rankings.

His second stint on the main Tour began just a few weeks later in South Africa. He was riding the crest of a wave and went on to finish third to earn €103,800 at the Alfred Dunhill Championship. That set him up for a successful season and his popularity started to swell.

He made a hole-in-one on his debut at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, chest bumping with a friend who was following outside the ropes after he realised he’d won a spanking new BMW M4 Coupe. Footage of his celebration quickly found its way onto the highlights reels and towards the end of the year he began to grow his now trademark beard. “I had a lot of nice feedback after that hole-in-one and my reaction to it,” he said. “It gave me confidence to be myself and it really helped my game. I finally feel like I can be myself out there and I have played so much better because of it.”

 

SPRINGFIELD, NJ - JULY 26: Andrew Johnston of England poses with English golf fans who are celebrating a bachelor party during a practice round prior to the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club on July 26, 2016 in Springfield, New Jersey. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
Beef poses with English golf fans celebrating a bachelor party during a practice round prior to the 2016 US PGA Championship.

Household name

His form continued into 2016 and in April he hit the headlines with an honest and frank interview after he won his first European Tour title at the Spanish Open at Valderrama. “I can’t wait to get home and get hammered and see my Mum,” he told TV reporters with a huge grin on his face. He woke up the next morning with new found fame on both sides of the Atlantic following his ‘hammered’ comments.

Suddenly Beef was a household name and the stories and sound-bites kept flooding in. He qualified for the US Open in June and Rickie Fowler – another popular personality – asked him to play a practice round at Oakmont. But the offer of an 8:30am tee-time was too much for Beef and he politely declined: “I’m like, what’s wrong with you, man, playing at that time in the morning?”  While a 54th place finish might have been a disappointing on-course result at the US Open, away from the fairways Beef had gained a growing army of new supporters. “It feels amazing to have the fans chanting my name, it means so much.”

His next Major assignment came at Royal Troon where a seventh placed finish bumped up his World Ranking position, and there were some within the game whispering about the possibility of Johnson making Darren Clarke’s Ryder Cup side. However, a tied 60th finish at the US PGA Championship effectively ended any talk of a Beef Wildcard selection.

Staying on in America, Beef attended the Web.com Tour Finals and promptly earned playing status on the US PGA Tour for next season. Subsequently, he announced he will play a split schedule with events in Europe and America.

“I’ll have a few sodas – maybe a Coke or a Fanta,” he smiled when asked how he would celebrate his American status. “Nah, there’s going to be a few beers, man.”

Is there anyone with a more laid-back, happy-go-lucky attitude in golf? We asked him about his routine out on the course and he explained: “I like to hit my shot and then chill out. I concentrate when I get to my ball but I can’t stay intense for too long.”

Here’s hoping Johnston can remain the same for the coming years because his rise to fame and glory has been a breath of fresh air. There’s nothing worse than spoiled beef.

 

SPRINGFIELD, NJ - JULY 27: A detail of the wedges of Andrew Johnston of England during a practice round prior to the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club on July 27, 2016 in Springfield, New Jersey. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Ian Poulter might have the models of his prize Ferrari’s etched on his Vokey wedges but good old ‘Beef’ keeps things grounded with a reminder of his favourite cuts of … you’ve guessed it … BEEEEEF
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