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Where’s the Beef? Everywhere at and around PGA Championship

Andrew Johnston, of England, smiles after a putt on the 11th hole during a practice round for the PGA Championship golf tournament at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., on Tuesday. (Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)
Andrew Johnston, of England, smiles after a putt on the 11th hole during a practice round for the PGA Championship golf tournament at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., on Tuesday. (Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)
By Barry Wilner Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Andrew Johnston already has had a busy few days in the New York area. You know, pastrami at Katz’s Deli, sampling burgers throughout Manhattan, and getting a taste of the fare from his newest sponsor, Arby’s.

He even worked behind the counter at the fast-food restaurant.

Where else would a guy nicknamed Beef begin his first trip to the PGA Championship?

The bearded Brit with the never-fading smile and jovial outlook is relishing his newfound popularity. He admittedly spent more time than he should have signing autographs and chatting up fans at Baltusrol – several of whom were wearing ginger beards in his honor. And he’s been all over social media.

Quite a change for a guy who barely was on golf’s radar before winning the Spanish Open this year and finishing eighth at the British.

Except it hasn’t changed the 27-year-old Londoner.

“As a personality and stuff, just be yourself, man,” Johnson said Wednesday after an early practice round. “Because like the more I’ve been myself, the more comfortable I’ve felt out on the golf course. The more I’ve just had fun and be me, the better I’ve played.

“So you’ve just got to be comfortable in who you are, what you do. Don’t be ashamed to be different or anything, you know, that’s you. And no matter who you are, where you are, where you’re from, people should embrace that.”

The fans certainly are embracing Johnston, as much for his outgoing persona as for his shotmaking and putting. Where some athletes might back away from interaction with the public as they seek their place in their sport, Johnston is all in.

Maybe too much so, but what the heck.

“I love the support and I love trying to give back my time,” Johnston said. “I actually had a big learning curve yesterday where I played a few holes, and I was signing so much, I probably shouldn’t have done as much on the course and then waited till after. But it was like the first real time where I’ve had that much attention. And I come off the course and I was like, that was crazy. That was mad.

“It’s just a thing of trying to get the right timing to spend time with all the fans, because I love it. I absolutely love it. And it means so much to me.”

So does golf, and Johnston recognizes for all the fun he is having – and all the entertainment he is providing – that if his game goes south, so might the recognition and adulation.

After all, he’s been on the European Tour for portions of six seasons and only this year has he made a breakthrough, reaching No. 88 in the world ranking and earning six top-15 finishes. Johnston has played in only two tournaments on American soil, this year’s U.S. Open, where he tied for 54th, and the World Golf Championship at Firestone (tied for 42nd).

So his outsized image right now is more responsible for his burgeoning popularity than is his game.

“It might come across like that to some people, but as I’ve said before, it’s all about the golf,” he said. “First thing’s first is the golf. That’s what I grew up doing. That’s what I grew up watching and where I wanted to be.

“So now I’m here, it’s like I want to keep pushing forward, and the first thing, the most important thing is the golf before anything else. 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.’

“No, it’s all about the golf. That’s the first thing that is most important, yeah.”

Still, you aren’t likely to find Johnston brooding his way through a round, even if the bogies are more prevalent than the birdies. He knows that being himself is just as much a key to beating par as finding fairways and greens.

“I know a lot of the guys, and they are good people, you know,” he said of his fellow touring pros. “But obviously everyone’s different and some guys are more quiet than others. I don’t know, I just seem to enjoy having a good time and having a laugh. So I guess it comes across as a bit different, yeah. That’s just me.”

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