Andrew 'Beef' Johnston has had a tough time of it the past 12 months as he's battled depression. In Scotland the smile was back for the 30-year-old
One of the highlights of the golfing week is tucking into the European Tour’s excellent player blog. Away from the clichés that are usually trotted out we get to hear something closer to the real story, what it’s really taken out of a player when the form’s gone south before getting the happy ending.
When Andrew Johnston, ‘Beef’ to you and me, sat down a few weeks ago to tell his story there was no happy ending, just an open, frank and very sincere account of what he had been going through.
To set the scene he talks about his split from his long-term girlfriend, how he then pulled out in France after an opening 82 last June only to return home to discover that his flat had been broken into. His head wasn’t in the right place so he took seven weeks off, in the interim he and his coach went their separate ways, and he came back in Sweden where he posted a top 10.
The rest of the season appeared to look pretty solid, he would finish 11 spots outside the riches of Dubai but all decent enough, and he would sign off with a top 30 at the Nedbank. His final event of 2018 brought a tie for 9th at the Australian PGA Championship and his new season was off and running.
Looking at his Twitter account everything also appeared as usual, in December he got engaged and there was the usual knockabout humour in his posts and replies.
The actual story was a grim one.
“I came off the course on Sunday at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in November and couldn’t even bring myself to go get my clubs from the locker. I just left them. I went straight back to the hotel and just cried,” Johnston explains in the blog.
“I nearly walked off the course at the Australian PGA Championship a few weeks later. I hit two bad shots, and I couldn’t mentally handle it at all. I had no idea what was going on. I was so angry, so wound up, which is really unlike me. I came off there and cried. I knew then that something wasn’t right.”
Johnston played Abu Dhabi and Dubai but his state of mind brought about another parting of the ways, this time with his caddie.
“I said ‘I just don’t know which person is going to turn up day to day’. I really didn’t, and I thought it was unfair on him, so we split.”
Two weeks later was the Vic Open in Australia. The first day he was round in 66, a day later he was packing his bags.
“I couldn’t even write numbers in my yardage book. I was writing everything backwards, the numbers backwards. I didn’t know what was going on. I shot 77 and missed the cut.”
The following week he arrived in Perth but then pulled out. He and his fiancée had a holiday to ‘clear my head’ in Thailand and he then got as far as Oman but couldn’t bring himself to play.
His fiancée put him in touch with a psychologist, Ben Davies, and he began to piece together what had brought about his problems. Johnston explains that his mentality had changed after trying his luck on the PGA Tour and that he had been heaping far too much pressure on himself.
“You’ve got to remember, I’m a normal geezer from Finchley.”
Well he is and he isn’t.
Johnston lives in a world where you rarely show much of yourself. If the putts didn’t drop this week then they soon will, the game is pretty much always coming together and, when it all does come together, then we’ll start to see some good things.
It’s part putting on a brave face, part keeping your manager and sponsors happy and part saying something enough times that you actually believe it.
Very few players will open up at all and hardly ever like this. For the many who are having similar struggles with life it will have shone like a lighthouse in the gloom, for everyone who read Johnston’s words it will have touched them.
We were already fans, not just because he’s got a beard and a silly nickname, but because he’s normal and decent.
Now we’ve got maybe not the happy ending, he admits freely that there’s still work to do, but certainly a very nice step towards it on the course with a place in this week’s Open Championship. For a moment it seemed like a 59 might be on the cards, in the end it was a career-low 62 and fourth place. With the added kicker that it came in a Rolex Series event and The Open, in which he dazzled in 2016, is just four days away.
Away from all of that a genuine smile was back on his chops.
Raw emotion and honesty ❤️
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) July 14, 2019
In the aftermath you get a genuine sense of how pleased your peers are for you and Sky Sports’ Ewen Murray put it nicely with his summing up of the situation that “there won’t be anyone in this game who isn’t pleased to see what happened to Johnston today”.
Life, he tells us, is good again particularly because he’s going to be a dad soon, but also because it might help others to be more open in the future.
“I’ve had a great reaction to the blog, especially from everyone on tour. I’ve had players tell me that it has helped them, as they have had similar feelings. A lot of guys have been through what I have, which, in a way, is nice to hear. I don’t want to hear about anyone feeling down, but it is reassuring to know I’m not the only one.”