Sports

'Beef' is on the menu

Bearded pizza-eating Englishman captures the imagination at the Open

Big, burly and bearded Andrew Johnston has become a cult figure at the British Open with an unlikely title charge inspired by pizza and bedtime stories for his adoring niece.

The Englishman, nicknamed 'Beef', strung together three under-par rounds at Royal Troon and was in fourth place ahead of the final day, seven shots adrift of leader Henrik Stenson.

Johnston's portly figure and curly beard make him an easy character to spot on the course, even if he was often mistaken by autograph-hunters for eventual runner-up Shane Lowry at the US Open.

The 27-year-old gained plenty of fans in the US last month, and he delighted them further by smashing a beefburger with his driver on the practice range at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.

When in contention for a Major title, most players' press conferences would focus on their games, but "Beef" was more than happy to chat about his dinner from the night before.

"I had a pizza last night," said Johnston. "It was like a 10-inch pizza. It wasn't that big. It wasn't like a 20-inch, 'Win a T-shirt' if you finish it type of thing. It wasn't anything like that."

Johnston, who is ranked at a career-high of 104 in the world, also explained the origin of a nickname that has stuck since the age of 12.

"From my hair on my head. I grow it out it grows curly," he added.

"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."

Johnston, from Barnet in London, plays the card game Top Trumps with his five-year-old niece Summer before competing to help him relax.

On his Twitter feed @BeefGolf, he posted a video of her on Friday night calling his beard "lumpy".

With the chance of a first top-10 Major finish, the familiar routine would probably have been be in order again on Saturday night.

"Maybe, yeah. It could be game time again," Johnston said, after the end of his third round.

"I read her a few books last night before I went to bed. I think she was up a bit later than me. So we'll see. We'll see."

Since Tiger Woods burst onto the scene in the 1990s, golf has seen players focus far more on fitness and strength than before, but Johnston's rise suggests that is not the only way to be successful.

"I have no idea, you want to pick me up?", he quipped, after being asked how much he weighs.

"I don't know, man. About 16 stone (100kg), I reckon. I don't know. I need to start (to) shed a stone."

Fans have flocked to social media to express their support for Johnston, with some users pointing out the facial similarity in appearance to the character 'Taaj' from British sitcom, "Come Fly With Me".

One tweet claimed Johnston is "the greatest thing to happen to golf", while another said: "can the media finally stop hyping Mcilroy as the one to watch. Beeeeeffffff!"

As unlikely as it sounds right now, for the man who said that he couldn't "wait to get hammered" after his maiden European Tour title in Spain earlier this year, a Claret Jug could cause quite some celebration. - AFP.

sportGolfANDREW JOHNSON