TROON, Scotland – There he is. The man of the hour. Soaking in the adoration of the crowd. Walking the 18th fairway in the game’s most majestic event.
And there, some 250 yards in arrears, standing on a mound to see over the hundreds and hundreds of applauding fans is his mother.
Jackie smiles. It’s that kind of smile that makes you smile, because you can sense the pride and love. Beside her is her daughter, Beef’s sister, Emily Brinton. Running up and down the mound is Emily’s daughter, Summer.
The family is staying together this week, renting a house a few miles away in Ayr. They’ll be joined by brother James on Sunday.
Andrew Johnston is at 5 under par through 54 holes of The Open at Royal Troon. He is seven shots off the lead, but in solo fourth place. He played alongside Sergio Garcia in Round 3. And while Sergio did what Sergio tends to do on major Saturdays, Johnston held his own. He played a terribly difficult back nine in 1 over and posted a 1-under 70.
“I'm so competitive. That's what it's about,” he said, following his round. “I love the competition and just competing, man. That's what I love.
"I'm just going to go out there [on Sunday] and have fun, enjoy it like I did today. I'm a good ways back, but who knows?"
Johnston addressed in excess of 30 media members, crammed in the corner of a makeshift tent. They all wanted to know his story: about his nickname, his beard, what he has been eating this week, his following. Someone even asked how much he weighed. It’s a good read, if you’re interested.
This is an unusual time for Johnston. A few years ago, he was trying to make enough money to cover the cost of Christmas gifts. Now he’s in the penultimate group on Sunday of The Open.
“It’s what it’s all about, you know,” he said, using one of his favorite phrases. “I’m loving it. Loving it, man. This is what I’ve dreamed of as a kid, man.”
It’s a shared vision.
In trouble on the par-4 13th and hoping to save par, Johnston chipped in for birdie. After the jubilation died down he looked to his mother. She was crying. Andrew, as she calls him, had to look away before he shed tears, too.
“You made mom cry!” Emily said.
“That was the point!” Andrew replied.
Emily resides in Palm Harbour, Fla. She had been wanting to see her brother play for some time and finally did at this year’s U.S. Open. “Those crowds,” she said. “They loved him. I’ve never seen anything like it, really. All the calls – BEEEEEF!”
Emily is a bit reticent to call Andrew by the nickname a friend of his gave him at age 12.
“From my hair on my head,” Johnston explained. “I grow it out it grows curly. And my mate just went, ‘Look at your hair. It's like a big bit of beef,’ and called me a ‘Beefhead.’ That was it. It's been shortened to beef.”
“I always called him ‘Chunky,’” Emily said. “But, I guess, that’s out the door now.”
There were no yells of Chunky on Saturday, but there was one guy shouting “Caesar salad!”
Johnston said Friday on TV that he was going to have that particular item for dinner and one fan ran with it. “He shouted it at me for like six holes, man” Johnston said. Such is the life of a cult figure.
Outside of that, the shouts weren’t overly original. Just lots and lots of BEEEEF!
“They sound like cows, really,” Emily said. “Like a mooooooo.”
Johnston had quite the following on Saturday. It got so dense after the chip-in at 13 that Emily cried out, “Mother of the Beef, mother of the Beef coming through!”
A herd of people trekked through the shoe-staining mud and under ever-present rain drops, dodging the occasional, hazardous umbrella. They cheered on their new leading man, whether he was making a putt, hitting a drive or exiting a porta-john. And he waved and smiled and gave a thumbs-up. Walking off the 16th green, he slapped hands with a kid as several fans broke attendance policy and recorded the moment on their phones.
“Oh, this is the best,” Johnston said. “Yeah, to have that reception is amazing. I just love it. I really do.”
Said Emily: “I think he remembers being a kid, looking up to the players and wanting autographs. It’s good fun for him now.”
So, too, is hanging out with his 5-year-old niece. They played cards on Thursday, a game called Top Trumps. We’ll let Uncle Beef, as Summer calls him and repeatedly exclaims during rounds, explain:
“You know how you get the cards and it would have like a tiger, and it would say, aggression 10, cuteness 1, and stuff like that. It has like different numbers on there and you have to pick one and then whatever cards the other person's got and whoever is ever higher basically wins and gets that card and go on to the next. It's just a proper kids game.”
On Friday, he read to Summer. “'Goldilocks and the Three Bears', or something like that,” he said.
“I think we’ll play Go Fish later [tonight].”
Summer jokes about Uncle Beef's beard, says it's time for a trim. It's been getting a bit shaggy lately, with his busy schedule, and, according to Emily, at least two bottles of beard oil have exploded in his travel bag.
All of the family time has relaxed Johnston and, at the same time, kept him focused. Emily could sense it Saturday morning, saying to their mother, “He’s on good form today. He’s in that competitive mode.”
As Johnston – Andrew, Uncle Beef, BEEEEEF, Chunky – was walking toward his tee shot off the right side of the fairway at 18 in the evening, seagulls flew overhead under a bruised sky that refused to yield to the sun all day. Drips of rain and windy chill persisted.
Summer hopped on her mother’s umbrella and Emily spun her around like a witch on a broom.
“Again,” Summer cried. “Again.”
Johnston hit his approach shot and then began his walk. He doffed his cap and waved, continued with the thumbs-up, embracing a sudden fame.
“This is absolutely amazing,” his mother said with that smile. “Very emotional.
“You hope that your kids will get to live their dreams. But you never really know if it will happen, do you?”