Andrew Johnston’s missed cut in the $1.4 million ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth is a salutary reminder that the weight of expectation can be a heavy cross to bear.
Johnston missing cuts on the European Tour wasn’t part of the script, but then golf has a habit of ignoring scripts.
The burly Englishman became an almost overnight success after his 2016 Spanish Open victory. His heartfelt quote about going home to celebrate with his mates by getting “hammered” was a tabloid headline writer’s dream and just the sort of line that lights up social media. His “Beef” nickname only added to his persona.
Soon he was making appearances on national radio and TV. Chants of “Beef” began ringing round tournament venues, even at the normally staid British Open at Royal Troon, where Johnston finished eighth in 2016. Last year he upstaged Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer with his starring role in the European Tour’s video “Aaron’s Birthday Surprise,” which went viral on social media.
Happy to play along
Johnston was happy to play along with his newly created image, playing the good-time, man of the people guy all the way down the line. He cashed in on the hype, signing a lucrative endorsement deal with fast food chain Arby’s. However, Johnston’s game couldn’t keep up.
The 2017 season was pretty much a bust for Johnston. His foray into the PGA Tour didn’t last long, and Johnston returned to Europe. That didn’t go too well either. After three top-10 finishes in 2016 including the win, Johnston’s best finish was a T-19 in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open. To be fair, Johnston only played in 10 European Tour events due to trying to play both tours.
He admits his year of living famously had its downside.
“Last year was crazy and like getting distracted and things like that, and you don’t know it’s happened until you’ve finished the season, you’re off doing things and you’re burning the candle at both ends,” Johnston said. “When I got back from last season, I sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, ‘You know, you’ve got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’
“I’m a social person. If you go out with friends or you get invited to something, I’ll have a beer, please. I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. It reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”
Johnston isn’t the first player to fail to live up to expectations. Anyone who saw Pablo Martin play for Oklahoma State would have penciled him in for his first Ryder Cup appearance by now. Former Cowboys coach Mike Holder recruited Martin when he beat Rafa Cabrera Bello in the final of the 2001 British Boys Championship at Ganton. Holder said Martin was good enough to play on the PGA Tour then, despite being only 15.
Beef not alone in this struggle
Martin was the first player on the European Tour to win as an amateur. His 2007 Portuguese Open win signaled more to come. Although he added two more victories in the 2010 and 2011, both at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa, he’s never lived up to expectations. He no longer has a full European Tour card. In fact, Cabrera Bello has turned into the better player, making his Ryder Cup debut two years ago.
Paul Lawrie tried to convince himself he was a potential top-10 player in the world after winning the 1999 Open Championship. Lawrie’s been a good player with a great career. He’s never fully got the credit he deserved for his Carnoustie victory. Top 10 in the world, though? No. He reached a high of 26th in 2012, the year he made his second Ryder Cup appearance.
Johan Edfors seemed destined for greatness when he won three times during the 2006 season, including prestigious titles in the Scottish Open and British Masters. He finished 10th on the European money list. He hasn’t won since. He lost his card in 2013 and has never got it back.
There are plenty of other players who’ve failed to live up to expectations.
Johnston turns 29 on Feb. 18 and has loads of time to win more titles. However, he’s different from the above players because of his huge persona. The hype is only going to increase when/if Johnston notches up his next W. Hopefully he’ll handle the attention better next time around. Gwk