After capturing the hearts of fans all around the planet at the Open Championship, Andrew “Beef” Johnston needs no introduction. In fact, he could even go without his Christian name and refer to himself solely as “Beef” — without the quotations even.
Well, Beef’s popularity has certainly not dwindled — if anything, it’s only intensified. Just over a week ago after finishing solo eighth at the Open Championship, he was unofficially (yet undoubtedly) crowned the people’s champion, as he constantly exchanged banter with the gallery, signed autographs and took selfies with hundreds of keen fans. He’s picked up exactly where he left off at Baltusrol Golf Club this week for his first start at the PGA Championship as golf’s everyman.
The buzz for Beef is greater so far this week than it has been for Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth or Rickie Fowler (I know, I can hardly believe it, either!). But it’s no surprise given the constant banter he has with the fans — he even waves kids under the ropes, hollering, “Come on!” as they run into the middle of the fairway to get autographs or take a selfie with the friendly Englishman with the big beard and smile.
After his profile increased significantly and he became golf’s folk hero at Royal Troon, he inked a sponsorship deal with Arby’s. Beginning in the first round of the PGA, Beef will sport the fast-food chain’s logo on his shirt and hat. On Tuesday, he asked whether it was possible to have his Vokey wedges stamped with “pictures of cuts of meat.” He was told, “It will be difficult.” Hey, it never hurts to ask.
The legend of Beef certainly started long before he won the European Tour’s Open de España in April, but it was there that he gave an epic post-victory interview. When asked how he planned to celebrate, he said, “I can’t wait to get back to North-Mid (Northern Middlesex), get hammered and see my mum.”
At last year’s BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event at Wentworth, Beef made an ace and then celebrated with an epic chest-bump with his mate who started running toward him from the gallery. Oh, man, it was hilarious!
After running into him Monday, I went out on a limb (kind of; it would be more so if it wasn’t BEEF) and direct messaged him via Twitter and he almost responded immediately. I would normally be shocked, but in this case, I wasn’t. He’s a normal dude (which can be quite rare out here, to be honest). I asked if I could catch him on the range for a Periscope interview and then follow him a bit in his practice round (which I would naturally catch bits via SnapChat). He was as laid-back as can be, saying it was up to me and just told me what time he would be at the range, along with his tee time Tuesday morning.
Sure enough, he was there.
Afterward, he moved on to an interview with Sky Sports and I met his manager, who was obviously very friendly and relaxed. When I mentioned how “normal” Beef was, he said something to the extent of making sure he stayed that way. I told him something you rarely hear a media member tell an agent (unless they need something or just enjoy…you fill in the blank) — I said, “I like you already!” I’m a fledgling in this business, relatively speaking, but I’ve been around long enough to have seen players change from their days as unknown rookies to major champions or Ryder Cup stars or gagillionaire-dom. But that’s another story and I digress.
Naturally, on the first tee, where the Long Drive contest was also taking place on Tuesday, Beef turned to the crowd and hollered, “Make some noise up in here!” The gallery cheered, but Beef wanted more and said he wanted “more noise.”
Two holes into the practice round, Beef and his playing partners were informed that there was a three-group back-up on the third tee. 2002 PGA Champion Rich Beem was not having it and suggested they jump over to the 10th tee.
“I didn’t think it would be this bad,” said Beef. “Just hit it! Then get on with it, hit a few putts and a few chips.”
Before Beef and the rest were whisked away in carts (well, he apologized, which was completely unnecessary), there was a bit of confusion. So, of course, Beef was chit-chatting and then when I asked to take a Snap (happy to settle for the first filter or whatever was quickest as I’ve been trained), he asked, “Can we do ‘Face Swap’?” Duh! Who doesn’t love and/or get a kick outta FaceSwap?!? The result is frighteningly funny, as it always is.
Following the 18th hole, Beef spent an hour walking down the autograph line, signing endlessly (wouldn’t be surprised if he had to ice his hand in the evening!), taking selfies with anyone who asked (which was like 50% of the fans) and having a bit of banter. It feels cliche to say at this point, but boy, he is such a breath of fresh air in the big leagues. It’s also because he genuinely enjoys interacting with people and loves life (not to say that others don’t…I think when most guys don’t engage or chat as actively, it’s because of social awkwardness…).
A sampling of the exchange with fans on Tuesday, according to Jon McCarthy of the Toronto Sun:
“Beef! You’re the coolest!”
“Wicked, man,” he replies.
“Can I have another selfie with you and my brother?”
“No worries, man,” he answers.
“Do you mind signing my poster of different cuts of meat?”
Halfway down the line, his signature changes from Andrew Johnston to BEEF.
“Everyone says ‘Can you just write Beef under it?’ So I’m just going to sign it Beef from now on,” he explains.
An hour later it’s official, in case it wasn’t already, Beef has gone viral.
As the day starts to wind down for Beef, he looks a bit bewildered by the tremendous following and whirlwind he had just experienced in the past hour or so — or perhaps the last couple of weeks.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked to comprehend his popularity. “I’m just a normal person and they can relate to it, I guess. I’m no different. Yeah, I think they just see that I’m the same as them,” he says. “It’s mad, man, mad. But I love it, you know? It’s all about getting people inspired and excited to get into golf and that. Enjoyin’ it.”
Keep doing you, Beef. Never change. You are a legend.