Andrew Johnston is a ray of sunshine at the Open

Big hitter: Andrew Johnston tees off at the third. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Big hitter: Andrew Johnston tees off at the third. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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Blame the weather, but there has often been a paucity of pleasure on show at Royal Troon this week.

Most have struggled to maintain any humour as they battled the elements, yet in Andrew Johnston, there has been a constant ray of sunshine amongst the glaur and the glares.

Two years ago the Englishman was competing in front of a few dozen spectators on the Challenge Tour and was virtually penniless. Now he is a cult hero who comes across as laid back, charming in an almost childlike way, and is as down to earth as any on this stage. It may be raining, the gales may be howling off the Firth of Clyde but he doesn’t care. He is loving it. And, he is doing pretty well.

The kind of guy who could probably elicit a chuckle from the most curmudgeonly character, he says there is a switch he can flick and when he does, he is as competitive as anyone, whether that is on the golf course or playing card games with his five-year-old niece. It is the golf game that matters most this week and he has been faring better at it than he had at Top Trumps.

If the winning personality has proved endearing, back-to-back rounds of 69s in the opening two rounds and a 70 yesterday mean he is sitting fourth on the leaderboard heading into the final 18 holes.

Two birdies on the front nine, were negated slightly by a bogey on the 10th. But he came back with a lovely chip in on the 13th.

There was another bogey on the following hole, but on a day when the run-in was proving tough, he held it together better than most, with few at the beginning of the day imagining that with the likes of Zach and Dustin in the reckoning, he would head into Sunday as the highest-placed of the Johnston/Johnson contingent.

Yesterday he was paired with another crowd favourite, Sergio Garcia, attracting big and buoyant galleries and despite the prevailing winds and the showers that accompanied the players around the course, there was a genuine warmth in the air.

Punters have been known to wave burgers at the Englishman like some meat-feast equivalent of 
pom-poms as they herald the quirky, rough-around- the-edges 27-year-old’s progress from tee to green. It is a homage to his nickname, Beef. But, considering the fun and the entertainment, the smiles and the exuberance, if the items being waved are to adequately reflect his positivity, they should, surely, be upgraded to Happy Meals.

But while it is almost impossible not to be cheered, entertained and enthralled by Johnston, who has an infectious lust for life, there was a hint of tears in his eyes when he thought about how far he had come in the past couple of years, from winning a Challenge tour event in Aviemore to walking down the 18th at Royal Troon to the kind of reception well beyond that demanded by golfing etiquette.

“Yeah, yeah. It’s great. That’s what you dream of. Yeah, to have that reception is amazing. I just love it. I really do.”

And it had been like that all the way round. “It was funny, actually, on 13, the chip-in and I walked over and I could see my mom crying, which was even funnier. And that got me going a bit. I was like, ‘Oh my God. Don’t look at me mum. Please, go over there.”

On moving day, the golf was decent, though, as men flitted up and down the standings, with Johnston unwilling to rule out edging even higher and possibly challenging for the Claret Jug.

“I said yesterday, why not? If you come into tournaments, you believe you can go and do something. What is the point of playing if you don’t believe or trust yourself or back yourself?

“But as I said, there’s a long way to go. There are 18 holes. The guys are quite far ahead. Going to need to play well tomorrow, and we’ll just see what happens.”

One certainty is that he will draw big crowds as he wages his assault. Yesterday the players engaged with the galleries and each other. Arms were raised aloft and fists were pumped when shots dropped. Add to that good-humoured sing offs and quip offs with the Garcia followers and it all added to the atmosphere.

“You know, that’s what it’s about. You know, people come, and as I said, if a thousand people come and watch it, and if they really enjoy themselves, that’s what it’s about. You want them to go home with good memories and go, ‘Oh, my God. I’ve had such a great day’. That’s what it’s about.”

No one could doubt that Beef had a ball. Asked if there had been any particular shouts which tickled him, he chuckled as he recalled it. “In an interview with Sky Sports yesterday, they said, ‘What are you going to eat tonight?’ I said, ‘Caesar salad’, and I had this one kid screaming, “Caesar salad!” at me for the first six holes. It was funny.”

In Beef’s world, even when there is serious business to take care of, there is always room for fun.

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