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ERIN, Wisconsin — Follow just about every golfer this week at the U.S. Open and you’ll see players so laser focused the high-five attempts and cheers of encouragement from fans go largely unnoticed and almost entirely unrecognized.
Then there’s Andrew Johnston, otherwise known … as “Beef.”
He’s 28, comes from England, and with a belly that pours over his belt, looks more like a guy you’d find at the local pub than a putting green. He’s the everyman golfer, with a thick grizzly beard, a gnarly head of hair that inspired his nickname, and a smile so ever-present you wonder if Beef has ever had a bad minute, let alone a bad day.
It’s impossible not to love the guy, and out on the course at Erin Hills everyone loves him. And Beef loves them right back.
From his walk to the first tee to his retreat back to the clubhouse after finishing up at 18, the cheers of “Beeeeeeeef!” never stop. And amazingly, Beef never grows tired of it.
After a birdie at the first on Saturday, “Beeeeeeeef!”
After another birdie at No. 2, ” Beeeeeeeef!”
Walking down the third fairway, “Beeeeeeeef!”
You get the picture, and every time Beef greets the cheers with simple thumbs-up. Every. Single. Time.
It’s how a guy ranked 116th in the world and with just a single European Tour win to his name has in the course of a single calendar year become instantly recognizable on just about any golf course in the world.
The fans may not know Andrew Johnston, but they do know Beef.
After a par save at No. 4, “Beeeeeeeef!”
Walking to the fifth tee, “Beeeeeeeef!”
“I wonder if he gets tired of it?” one fan wondered as a chorus of Beeeeeeeefs bellowed around the fifth fairway.
The answer: “No, man. I never dreamt of it. I never thought it’d be like this. To have that support is just crazy.”
And it’s a blast to watch, because Beef is having a blast. Whereas most players stare at the ground as they walk straight down the middle of the roped-off paths going from green to the next tee, careful to avoid the outstretched arms of fans, Beef high-fives everyone. His only difficulty is picking a side, so sometimes he’ll start on one side of a path and end on the other.
“After I hit my shot I kind of walk and it’s switch-off time and I can’t be too tense the whole way around,” he explains. “I can’t be like straight in that mindzone for five hours, six hours.”
When a fan yells to him about sharing a pint, and Beef gives the familiar thumbs-up, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched that he’ll actually take him up on it. This is the guy, after all, sporting an Arby’s logo on his shirt in what may be the most perfect athlete-sponsor pairing of all-time.
“We have the Beef,” it says on the back of Beef’s hat.
At 1-under, 11 shots back of the lead, Beef’s not taking home the trophy this weekend. But there’s no question he’s won the crowd.
“Man, the people have been so good to me,” he says, “and hopefully, yeah, they’ve had fun watching me as well, man. I’ve had fun with them.”
On the walk from 18 to the clubhouse Saturday, Beef ran the ropes one last time, high-fiving everyone in his way.
“Enjoy the Spotted Cow,” a fan yelled, referring to a local beer.
Beef turned around, gave a thumbs-up and said, “Cheers.”