Beef billowing with belief

So how long is golf going to let Andrew Johnston get away with this? He of the beard and North London cackle. Wandering up fairways in a fun filled haze; reaching each green with the look of man entering his own surprise party; propelled around the course by a crowd half drunk on a monosyllabic chorus of approval. For this was the Open Championship where ‘Beef’ caught the imagination.

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To talk of Johnson circumnavigates one of the greatest golfing exhibitions ever. Stenson’s tournament winning twenty under par was stupendous. Mickelson played his part too, a two man band ‘umpah’-ing their way round at the back; their own mesmeric rhythm pulsing around the globe; Stenson’s solo just too good for the American. I felt it was as good a round of golf as I have ever witnessed and I was not alone. Here’s what Jack Nicklaus thought;

“I was fortunate to watch every second of today’s final round of the Open Championship, and I thought it was fantastic. Phil Mickelson played one of the best rounds I have ever seen played in the Open and Henrik Stenson just played better—he played one of the greatest rounds I have ever seen… He drove the ball well; his iron game was great; his short game was wonderful; and his putting was great. Henrik was simply terrific… Some in the media have already tried to compare today’s final round to 1977 at Turnberry, with Tom Watson and me in what they called the “duel in the sun.” I thought we played great and had a wonderful match. On that day, Tom got me, 65-66. Our final round was really good, but theirs was even better.”

But amidst all this was Johnston. Riding his own meaty wave and generally having a pretty good time. ‘Beef’ is enjoying a purple patch; if you’ll forgive the pun, he is very much in the golfing groove. The sport can do this to you. And the situation makes you think. Like cooking the perfect steak, is there a time when all this tender juicy enjoyment gets a bit tough? How much longer till we go past well done?

Golf’s appeal is, by all accounts, dwindling. Clubs are struggling with memberships, crowds are being priced out and the number of those watching on television is not big. Try as it might, golf is ailing. What that is due to is manifold. Accessibility, cost, the amount of time it takes up are all contributing factors. Also quoted is the golfing demise of Tiger Woods. His arrival in the mid-nineties led to game wide expansion. Courses got longer, equipment bigger, crowds that tuned in and turned up multiplied. Woods’ muscular frame and ravenous appetite for the game saw him create a new links brand. He broke not only racial boundaries but fronted a new era, one which demanded that golfers became athletes.

Woods’ legacy, despite his enforced absence through injury (both physical and mental), is that we have bulging pectoral muscles on the world’s elite. They’d be able to run 300 yds in record time as well as hit the ball that far. They consider diet, regime, sleep patterns; they have an entourage of people around them to make sure they are always in mint condition. Leading players are now hitting their prime in their 20s, not their 30s or 40s. But what this brings is many a similar type of player; the world’s top ten cast comparable silhouettes. All lean, mean, golfing machines.

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But Johnston’s physique and happy go lucky attitude seems to buck the trend. He will gladly tell you that beer and steak is a favourite pastime. He was presented with a hamburger box to sign by Sky Sports; they enjoyed him more than most. He’s at pains to say he is just a lad enjoying the game he’s always played. His win in Spain a few weeks ago shows the boy has talent; his ball striking is as good as anyone. On Twitter this week, to keep him company on his long journey back down south, he opened himself up to questions from the public. Again, something other players might avoid. He seemed to answer everyone. From steak sauce to Arsenal’s next signing, he responded candidly. It was glorious; the honesty poured out and the public lapped it up. Several said he was the reason they were getting their clubs out of the garage again.

And above all else, I want you to understand, I love Andrew Johnston. He is just what the game needs. We need him talking to everyone about getting involved in the sport. We need to get kids playing a new super fast version of golf with him as the poster boy. Slapping five irons at garbage cans and high-fiving fifteen year olds. Selecting his own dope tracks, coining his own phrases and taking this old man’s sport to the youtube generation. His love for the game is infectious, unspoilt. In many ways he is the antidote to the sterile, apathetic, colourless era Tiger created. There is not a cynical bone in his golfing body. So in a way, you worry.

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Because golf is nothing other than a cruel mistress. One that needs the utmost attention. If you devote everything to her, over a long period of time, give everything, make your whole being dedicated to her pursuit, she will respond; you become Henrik Stenson. But dangerously, cruelly, she will entertain flights of fancy; she can be pithy. Lighting up someone’s world, only to blow the candles out. There have been many before Johnston. She fills them with hope, their sails billowing with the belief that they can stay the course.

Everything that I love about Johnston, the paunch, the swagger, the unkempt beard, makes me think she is toying with him. Allowing him to believe that he has her tamed. That his charm and sense of fun is enough to keep her entertained. Johnston has been invited to the fourth major of the year next week: the US PGA at Baltusrol so expect the party to continue. But the question remains, hanging around the back of the mind of all who know this sport; how long is golf going to let Andrew Johnston get away with this?

Sam Roberts © 2016. (Text only). All Rights Reserved

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