Andrew Johnston made bogey at the Postage Stamp after finding one of the bunkers on the right of the green and made his way to the 9th, low-fiving the crowd on either side of the walkway as he climbed the approach to the tee and keeping his spirits up, but the Englishman knew his moment had slipped away.
Johnston, known as Beef since he was 12 when his childhood nickname of Beefhead was abbreviated for simplicity, had just slipped back to six under par and lost his hold on third place to JB Henry after a scintillating start to his round. He was to persevere on his way round, though, finishing at two over and experiencing the proudest moment of his life.
The 16-stone bearded bloke from Barnet had the galleries eating out of his hand all of the way around, the crowds acknowledging his shots, good and bad, with shouts of “Beef” and “We’ve still got the Beef” with his playing partner, Bill Haas, smiling politely like an American visitor observing the quirky behaviour of a neighbouring people.
Afterwards Johnston admitted that he would remember the walk down the 18th for ever. “It was crazy, man,” he said. “I had stopped and then it just carried on and I thought I’d better put my putter back in the air. It was like that. It was just amazing.
“I was slightly disappointed with the way I played today, and don’t think my short game was good enough. I started off pretty good and thought there was a better score to be had but I gave it my best and that’s what I came off with. I’ve no regrets and had a fantastic week. I’ve gained a lot of experience.”
A 20-foot putt at the 1st had whipped the crowd back into gear after a third‑round 70 put Johnston into the second-last pairing with Haas in this most unusual of Opens. The final pair were essentially playing matchplay for the Claret Jug, with everyone else chasing prize money and a top-10 place, which brings with it an automatic invitation to the get-together at Royal Birkdale next year. “The 1st shocked me when I got to the green and I holed the putt, and it was just absolutely crazy in there,” he said.
A bogey at the 2nd dropped Johnston back momentarily but birdies at the 3rd and 4th got him to seven under and the crowd’s shouts of encouragement were unerringly greeted with a thumbs-up. He even marched on to the par-three 5th with his putter aloft after a decent tee shot only to leave his putt short and record a belated first par of the round. “I’ve been really good at switching on and off and there was not one shot when I wasn’t concentrating and it got to me,” he said. “I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Johnston, 27 and playing only his second Open after missing the cut at Sandwich in 2011, learned the game at the North Middlesex club after being taken to a field by his father as a four‑year-old to hit balls and showing an aptitude for the game. He said the lowest points in his career were when he sustained a shoulder injury and also when he was scrapping on the Challenge Tour for 11 or 12 weeks just to try to keep it, and he managed to do that.
His breakthrough came in 2014 when he managed to win the Challenge Tour thanks to two victories in the season. He began to make headlines in 2015 when he made a hole in one at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, celebrating by running to a friend who emerged for the crowd and completing a mid-air chest bump.
He also won this year’s Open de España, made the cut at the US Open and Bridgestone, and all of this achieved with the Grizzly Adams look of a man who has not shaved since the Portuguese Open nine months ago.
Johnston’s outlook and demeanour have endeared him to the watching public; his interaction, on the course and via social media, made him popular with young and old alike and his game has won him a new generation of admirers. “Everyone’s different on the course, some like to be quiet on the course,” Johnston said. “Some of them like to be a bit different. So they’ve got to do what they’re comfortable with first of all.
“I don’t want to break any traditions, I just want to be myself, go out and enjoy it and go out and acknowledge the crowd. There’s a lot of good role models out there but as long as I can come out and play golf and affect people in a nice way, that’s the most important thing.”
After hitting his tee shot at the 7th he reached into his bag and pulled out a snack to keep him going – Beef Jerky, naturally – and although he hit his second shot to eight feet the birdie putt was missed and seven under was as good as it would get.
The back nine was played in two over but he managed to hang on to his top-10 finish and afterwards was told he had been invited to the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey this week. Now Johnston is hopeful of getting into the season’s final major, the US PGA Championship at Baltusrol, the following week.
“It’s a real good confidence boost to finish in the top 10 of a major and I’m going to try and use it positively and not sit back on it,” he said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010