As Andrew “Beef” Johnston walked off the seventh green Friday at Hillcrest Country Club, a fan took note of his birdie barrage.
“You’re making it look too easy,” the fan shouted.
“It’s not like that every day,” Johnston answered with a chuckle.
Certainly not — but this year, it seems like everything is coming up Beef.
Johnston fired an 8-under 63 to take a two-shot lead at the Albertsons Boise Open. The 27-year-old Englishman entered the Web.com Tour Finals in an attempt to join many of the world’s top players in competing on both sides of the Atlantic.
“If I can come out with a card, then I’ll be able to play the best tournaments on both sides,” Johnston said. “I’m not going to give up playing in Europe, either. I’m going to play both sides. If I can do that, it’s going to make for a great year next year.”
Johnston, who shot 66 in the first round, is 13-under. He made 10 birdies and two bogeys Friday, including birdies on his first four holes (Nos. 10-13) and five out of six holes on his second nine (Nos. 2-4 and 6-7).
A top-five finish likely would clinch Johnston a PGA Tour card for 2016-17. The top 25 money-winners during the finals, not including the 25 guys who were on top of the money list when the regular season ended, advance to the PGA Tour.
Johnston tied for 28th last week in the finals opener.
He qualified for the finals as a non-member of the PGA/Web.com tours by earning enough FedExCup points that he would have finished in the top 200 if eligible. His points came from finishing eighth in the British Open, making the cut in the PGA Championship and U.S. Open and tying for 42nd in the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational. He’s ranked 80th in the world.
He was told of the opportunity to compete in America on Sept. 1 at the Omega European Masters in Switzerland, he said.
“I didn’t hesitate,” he said.
Johnston finished third that week — his fifth top-10 finish of the season, including his first European Tour win. He’s 17th on the Race to Dubai points list and will compete in the European Tour finals in November.
He posted two top-10 finishes in 2015. He was on the European Challenge tour — equivalent to the Web.com — in 2013-14.
He turned pro in 2009 but, like many young tour pros, struggled to find consistency. He changed coaches last season and felt more “settled” when this season began, he said.
“You’ve just got to keep on trusting what you’re doing and keep on believing that you can compete with the best guys in the world,” Johnston said. “I haven’t really thought about it that much. Every tournament, you want to go and do well, no matter where it is, what tour it is. That’s been the good approach I’ve had.”
He had no idea where pro golf would take him, he said.
“I didn’t imagine this many people shouting ‘Beef’ at me,” he said. “That’s pretty special, man.”
The childhood nickname, his jovial nature and his everyman looks have made Johnston a fan favorite worldwide. He drew attention in 2015 with a chest-bump celebration with a friend in the crowd after a hole-in-one and by mimicking Miguel Angel Jimenez’s sword celebration after a hole-out.
Johnston’s story spread farther when he told the media after his win this year in Spain that he wanted to go home, “get hammered” and see his family, then contended in the British Open.
His shaggy beard has become part of the persona that attracts fans. He has kept it in part because of the harassment he receives from players, caddies and others, he said.
“I’m just thinking, ‘Is it such a big deal to have a beard and play golf?’ ” he said. “I had a few comments: ‘It’s bad for golf. It’s a bad image.’ It just doesn’t matter what you look like as long as you’re a good person.”
Stallings tied for sixth last week. A solid finish this weekend should be enough to secure his PGA Tour card for 2016-17.
“Last week was a huge step in the right direction for me,” Stallings said. “It’s motivating, encouraging, because I feel like it’s been there awhile and it doesn’t always happen on our time.”
Boise Open fan facts
▪ Where: Hillcrest Country Club, Boise
▪ Saturday: 9:09 a.m.; leaders tee off at 11:10 a.m.
▪ Sunday: 9 a.m.; leaders tee off at approximately 11:30 a.m. (awards ceremony after 4 p.m.)
▪ Purse: $1 million ($180,000 for winner)
▪ TV: The Golf Channel (1 to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday)
▪ Tickets: $15 daily grounds (17 and younger free with a ticketed adult)
▪ Parking: Free shuttle from the airport economy lot at Victory and Orchard.
▪ Free post-golf concert at the course: Lounge on Fire (Saturday).
Boise Open Leaderboard
Miguel Angel Carballo
Five golfers tied at -7