Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Can 'Beef' deliver more than just a catchy name at Baltusrol?

SPRINGFIELD, N.J.—The cheers rolls out over the sun-baked fairways of Baltusrol, full-throated and keening: “BEEEEEEEEEF!”

The man of the moment, Andrew “Beef” Johnston, grins a toothy grin, waving and posing and smiling and signing damn near anything that’s not on fire. This is the Summer of Beef, and he’s determined to enjoy every minute of it.

Speaking on Wednesday morning, hours removed from a chaotic 11-hole practice round that took nearly five hours, Beef could only shake his head in amazement at the route his life’s taken. “It was like the first real time where I’ve had that much attention,” he said. “And I come off the course and I was like, that was crazy. That was mad.”

In a world where wearing a white belt constitutes an edgy fashion statement, the burly, shrub-bearded Beef is a revelation, a cheery cannonball into the placid pool of professional golf. He’s inspired fans to wear beards and take pictures of themselves driving cheeseburgers off the tee.

Beef’s loving life right now, but he’s already savvy enough to realize that notoriety comes easy in the golf world, while true status takes a bit longer. He’s got the game to warrant the attention – he won the Spanish Open earlier this year, and finished eighth at the British Open two weeks ago – but he knows that he’ll have to deliver more than just a catchy nickname in the months and years to come.

“The most important thing is the golf before anything else,” Beef said. “I want to come away and look back in so many years and think, ‘yeah, that’s been a great time on the golf course.’ And not going, ‘oh, yeah, well, it was good for that period of time, but we had a good laugh.’”

Which is not to say he won’t enjoy himself. He’s capitalizing on the “Beef” name, signing a sponsorship deal with Arby’s to pitch some roast beef sandwiches this past Saturday in Manhattan.

“They said, did I want to make a sandwich. I said, ‘No way, I’m too scared to do that,’” Beef laughed. “So I was just putting the stuff in the bag and shouting out people’s names.”

But all the celebrity acclaim has a way of devouring your time like … well, you know. Beef realized after Tuesday’s frenetic round that he needs to set at least some boundaries.

“I actually had a big learning curve yesterday where I played a few holes, and I was signing so much,” he said. “I probably shouldn’t have done as much on the course and then waited till after.”

The euphoria surrounding Beef’s arrival hasn’t overtaken everyone yet. Darren Clarke, for one, cautions against getting too excited about Beef, say, making the European Ryder Cup team: “Beef, who is a character, he’s still quite some way outside the qualification points,” Clarke said. (Beef currently ranks 25th in European points.) “I [won’t] say I wouldn’t pick another rookie, but it would be very difficult for me to do so.”

Regardless of whether Beef makes the Ryder Cup team, he’s already got fans in high places. “He looks like a top bloke. Looks like a guy you want to go down to the pub and have a beer with, even if you don’t drink,” Jason Day said Wednesday. “It’s going to be interesting to see how his career goes, because he sounds like he’s come from humble beginnings and he’s done a lot of work to get to the position that he’s in today. It’s good to see stories like that and I’m hoping that he keeps the good play up, because I think we need more personalities in this game.”

The Summer of Beef lumbers on beginning at 12:35 p.m. on Thursday.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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