Exclusive interview: Andrew 'Beef' Johnston on that win in Spain, cars and getting hammered
Golfers’ nicknames are often obvious and lazily involve adding a ‘y’ to their surname. Think of the likes of Westy, Clarkey and Rosey. Occasionally we get creative add an ‘s’ a la Poults or Rors. And then there’s ‘Beef’, otherwise known as Andrew Johnston, otherwise known as the new Spanish Open champion.
The 27-year-old from Finchley though, who topped the Challenge Tour last year, is a bit different to the clean-cut, slimline brigade. He possesses an immense game and is more down-to-earth and unassuming than much of the European Tour put together. In short he’s a top, top boy.
When we speak he has just returned from buying a suit for an evening in the directors’ box at his beloved Arsenal and he’s even given his beard a little trim for the occasion.
After winning at Valderrama, with the first over-par winning score on a regular Tour event for 20 years, he was asked how he planned to celebrate?
“I can’t wait to get back to North Mid (North Middlesex), get hammered and see my mum and brother and spend time with them.’
And there was your headline. Golf Digest asked the question – is this your new favourite golfer?
For many, particularly at his home club, he already is. They know what he’s been through….
How helpful was it to play with James Morrison and Ross Fisher in the final round in Spain?
Pretty much the whole round it was a really nice group to be in and we were complementing each other and having a good time. Down 15 I hit a nice shot and they were saying ‘great shot’, then on 17 I had a six-foot putt for birdie and, as I was lining it up, James says ‘Hole if, Beef’. Then Ross said the same. It was pretty unexpected.
Afterwards they had to get flights to China and wished me all the best and hoped that I had done enough, it was really nice and classy.
Did you have any sense that plus one would be enough at the start of the week?
My caddy Gordon, who had been to the course before, thought the winning score would be well under par but he said, if the wind picked up, level or one under would have a chance. And he was right.
After the first day five under was leading and you wondered and then the wind picked up and it was a nightmare of a golf course.
On the Saturday and you had just had three straight bogeys but you were still laughing and joking. How good was the attitude?
We said in practice that it was a course that you couldn’t get wound up. You could hit a good shot and get nothing out of it so you had to have a good attitude around there and keep going. I thought whatever happened, four under or 10 over, I wasn’t going to react to anything all week.
Strangely if people are shooting 10 under I get angrier, at Valderrama if you make a bogey you’re not losing much ground. That will be my attitude all year now.
You famously made a hole-in-one at Wentworth last year and chest-bumped your mate – have you still got it?
No, I sold it. I had bought a car the previous Christmas and it came at a time when I didn’t need one so I moved it on.
Did you get a good price?
Yeah, it was a decent price (laughing).
What about the 168 bottles of champagne you won for another hole-in-one in Scotland, have you got any left?
None. I gave some to charity, if there was a special occasion at the golf club I would take some down and some went to friends and family. And I drank quite a few of them.
How important is North Middlesex to you?
Massive. That’s where I grew up and joined when I was nine. I’ve known the members for 18 years and when I watched the videos of them watching the Spanish Open at the club everyone was going crackers. It made my cry.
It is such a good place. It’s like my second home, I live two minutes away, I watch the football there and play on a Saturday morning there. It is just a great golf club and has so many good people.
What do you play off there?
We have the standard joke that I’m a pro so it’s scratch. And then they put me off plus four.
What tournament made you think you really belonged on the European Tour?
I was third at Leopard Creek at the end of 2014 and played with Louis Oosthuizen on the last day, which was a big step for me, and I played well. And it made me realise that I had nothing to worry about and that I should just go out there and play.
Then I got paired with Luke Donald and Nicolas Colsaerts at the British Masters. Being back home playing in front of massive crowds was a first and just getting the experience and getting comfortable with it really helped. The more you do it the more it helps. You chat about anything; football, cars, where they’ve been on their holidays and you feel more a part of the Tour.
Where does Beef come from?
When I was about 11 I had this big head of curly hair and my mate said it looked like a big bit of meat. So he said ‘Beef’ and that’s it, it stuck. There’s no magical story.
How far are you planning to take the beard?
I got it trimmed it down a bit, it was getting wild and the side bits seem to grow quicker on my chin. It was getting proper out of proportion. When you’re away it just grows and I don’t trust myself trimming it.
Eddie Pepperell’s blog tells some nice stories about how you, he and Tommy Fleetwood came through the ranks – how inspiring was it to see your mates win tournaments?
That team we had for British Boys was great and now there are a few of us on Tour. Seeing Tommy win at Gleneagles I was glued to the TV and willing him on. It’s the same with Eddie when he’s doing well, we’re all really good friends and it’s nice to have that.
He talks very movingly about your dad who died 10 years ago and how he wasn’t a pushy parent. How difficult was it to keep your emotions in check in Spain?
On the weekend I thought about it and you just try and shut it out and concentrate on playing. You have to keep it together and think of the good memories. Once I finished it all hit me.
How tough was it to keep playing and pushing on after he died?
When he passed away I didn’t touch a club for months but I have got such a great family, my mum and brother and sister and close family, we all stuck together.
The year after I was playing on the amateur circuit and my sister and mum came to a lot of events and my sister caddied for me for that year and took me everywhere. We all pulled together.
Then I turned pro and, when things weren’t going well, you want your dad to talk to. Little things like playing at Wentworth for the first time last year you just wish he could see that. But my mum was there.
No doubt she’s very proud?
My brother was telling me she couldn’t sit down on Sunday!
— Gary Player (@garyplayer) April 18, 2016
Without wishing to embarrass you it was a very popular win with your peers?
It’s scary, you don’t think of yourself like that. I’ll talk to anyone, I don’t really care who they are, if they are alright that’s what it’s all about. I don’t want any awkwardness with anyone. All the messages this week are pretty mad and to thinl how many people and players are rooting for you, you don’t realise it day to day.
And when are you going to get hammered?
Tomorrow at the golf club.
I’m sworn to secrecy but have a look at Andrew’s Twitter account – @BeefGolf – for what sounds like some very amusing pics at the party at his club.