With his hipster beard and swashbuckling zest, Andrew Johnston — better known as Beef — will light up the Irish Open at Portstewart this week.
Every sport thrives on the characters it throws up and Beef is as ebullient as they come with a deep sense of perspective ingrained by the tutelage of his late father Noel, who died of brain cancer in 2006 and continues to be his inspiration.
In last year’s Open Championship at Troon, Beef came to the public’s attention as never before with the cries of “Beef!” heard at every turn as he shot up the leaderboard, eventually finishing a shot behind Irish Open host Rory McIlroy in eighth place. As he walked off the 18th dad Noel, as always, was on his mind just as he will be when Beef tees up at the first on Thursday.
“When I’m playing I know that he is watching me and that’s a good thing for me whether I need my chin to be lifted up or whether I need to stay grounded,” said the 28-year-old, speaking exclusively to Sunday Life.
“My dad taught me the game, showed me how to play and I owe him everything so it was tough when we lost him.
“I’ve played the last three Irish Opens and I’ve missed the cut every time but that’s certainly not down to the place or the people because I love playing in Ireland. I love the courses over there, the people are very friendly... I love links and I remember playing the West of Ireland Championship in Rosses Point, Sligo.
“I’ll take it step by step... I’ve heard good things about Portstewart and I’m really looking forward to the challenge. I’m playing good golf and hopefully I can put myself into a position of having a chance of winning come the weekend.”
Just a few years ago thoughts of seeking to be an Irish Open winner would have been far from his mind as he found life difficult on the Challenger Tour.
“I had some tough times on the Challenge Tour... there were times when I wondered if I was good enough and I really doubted myself and it got to the point a few times between choosing whether to pack it in and go and do something else or play golf,” added Beef (right).
“But I always came down on the side of playing golf because that’s what I love but also because my manager Shaun kept encouraging me and believing in me, telling me to keep going. So really at this point I wouldn’t be playing golf if it wasn’t for him.
“We all get frustrated at times but with the support I get I stay pretty relaxed because we’re all so lucky to be playing this sport and The Open last year was just an incredible experience.
“To be there on the Saturday and being in the third last group and then on Sunday the second last pair was something that I couldn’t have dreamed about. The support I was getting was just incredible, people screaming Beef and high-fiving me.
“I never thought that could happen to me... I feel very privileged to be playing the sport I love.”
One man he quickly points to as crucial to inspiring the next generation of top golfers is World number four McIlroy.
“Growing up I loved watching Tiger and Phil Mickelson and also Chi-Chi Rodriguez with the way he would hold his putter like a sword after making a putt — today Rory is massive for the sport. He brings in such a big audience,” he said.