Andrew Johnston stepped into the ring with English WBC Silver heavyweight champion Dillian Whyte in July and immediately
burst into laughter.
If there’s a light moment to be had amid a whirling sea of tension, Johnston will find it. More often than not he’ll be at the very centre of it. But if you think Johnston is playing on his growing reputation as a man of the people to artificially inflate his standing in world golf, then you don’t know ‘Beef’.
Golf’s dearth of genuine characters makes someone such as Johnston stand out from the crowd, but to be anyone else would be disingenuous. Mark Waugh’s elegant style of batting would be described as lackadaisical or careless should he fail; the engaging and ever-smiling Johnston accused of not taking the game seriously enough when he misses cuts or is back in the pack.
But you need only to look back to February this year and the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth to better understand what makes Johnston tick. A late addition of star power after the withdrawal of fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton, Johnston embarked on a fast-tracked tour of all Perth has to offer, riding Segways with Min Woo Lee, cuddling Karen the Koala and taking a quokka selfie. And then proceeded to miss the cut.
Contributing significantly to his free weekend in the West Australian capital was a 9 he recorded in the opening round when his sense of humour again provided some respite.
“Everyone was dead quiet,” Johnston said at the completion of his second round at Lake Karrinyup.
“I hit it right, I hit a tree, come back over my head, I’ve had to take a drop, I’m down like near the road taking a drop, trying to get it out, it didn’t come out. I hit it out again, I walked over and I was now down the left side and there was a guy standing there and it was pretty quiet and I just said, ‘You do not want to go over there.’
“I said that to break the ice.”
Can you get a Sunday roast in Australia? Aussie people out there help me please 🙂
— Andrew 'Beef' Johnston (@BeefGolf) November 26, 2018
During his week on the Gold Coast for the Australian PGA Championship, ‘Beef’ will happily don the boardies for a surf, hit the theme parks and perhaps say g’day to one of Karen’s east coast relatives. But don’t for a moment think he doesn’t take his golf seriously.
“I take it seriously enough and the most important thing is for me to know that,” Johnston said. “When people are shouting stuff or I see something funny happen then I’m instantly attracted to it. I’ve always been like that. If I’m out in London and something funny’s happening, then I’ll go and head over and see what’s going on. That’s all it is.
“Obviously I take my golf seriously and make sure I’m concentrating and playing my golf, but I like to have fun out on the course as well.”
Ranked as high as No.74 in the world in 2016 when he won his lone European Tour title, Johnston’s genuine rapport and connection with fans provides a profile that belies his ranking of 182nd in the Official World Golf Ranking as of mid-October.
Since he was last in Australia, Johnston has accrued three top-10 finishes on the European Tour and concedes he is still working on finding the right balance between business and pleasure.
“It’s been a strange sort of year-and-a-half getting used to all the media and attention from people, but I feel like this year I’ve come out of that and I’m looking forward to playing,” the 29-year-old explained.
“It’s more a matter of getting used to it and working out day-to-day time management at tournaments and things like that. I’m fine with it and enjoy it and it’s just part of it but it’s just managing the time and managing my days correctly and I think that’s the thing I’ve learnt to get used to.”
Veteran Englishman Ian Poulter has never been afraid of expressing a forthright opinion or turning heads with outrageous fashion choices, which has at times both endeared him to fans and made hm a target. He is adamant that as long as Johnston is being true to himself there is no need to shy away from his naturally outgoing personality.
“Beef is a fantastic character and needs personally no advice in how to handle himself off the golf course,” Poulter said.
“He’s a likeable lad, he’s a great golfer, he’s got this big personality, so he’s definitely going to be a fan favourite down there. I think he’s going to enjoy it and I think the fans will enjoy him coming down.”
One person Johnston has leaned on from time to time in recent years is kindred spirit John Daly. Like Johnston, Daly’s blue-collar background and freewheeling style both on and off the golf course endeared him to Australian golf fans.
We stood in awe as he sent little white rockets into orbit, saw a reflection of ourselves in a guy who enjoyed a beer and
a bet and felt empathy when he displayed the type of human failings many people struggle with.
By not pretending to be anyone else, Daly became a figure who remains beloved to this day and who is helping guide Johnston through the minefield of professional golf.
“John’s always been great. Every time I see him we have a good chat,” Johnston said.
“He’s always looking out for me, asking how my golf is. When I’m over in Florida and he’s there we’ll go and practise and I can ask him anything, whether it’s hitting different shots or what he’s learned from experience over the years.
“He’s always keeping in touch. I’ve got so much time for the guy – he’s wicked.”
And no doubt happy to anoint a new Pied Piper of the PGA.