In the second of our 'Meet the Rookies' series, we profile the incredible rise to prominence of Andrew Johnston, who drew inspiration from his round with the legendary Tom Watson to rocket up the Challenge Tour Rankings from 100th spot and reach the heady heights of The European Tour...
As underdog stories go, Andrew Johnston’s is certainly up there amongst the best the Challenge Tour has produced.
Languishing at 100th place in the Rankings two thirds of the way through the season having played just three tournaments, the 22 year old was battling just to stay on the Challenge Tour for 2012.
Less than three months later, however, he has finished the season amongst the elite top 20 and is looking ahead to a year on the biggest stage - The European Tour. He even managed to squeeze the minor matter of an appearance at The Open Championship in between.
His meteoric rise came as the result of an incredible run of opportunism, taking advantage of an invite to the ECCO Tour Championships presented by Thomas Björn and Mercedes Benz in August with a top ten finish that propelled him into the field for the lucrative Kazahkstan Open and M2M Russian Challenge Cup.
His second place finish in Moscow then yielded his pivotal leap into the top 45 and qualification for the Apulia San Domenico Grand Final, where he sealed his European Tour card with a superb performance and a third place finish.It was a turnaround that even the man from Barnet, just outside London, could never have dreamed up.
“It’s been amazing really,” he said. “Earlier in the year I was just waiting for invites to the Challenge Tour and hoping to get into any tournament.
“I managed to do well in Austria (at the Kärnten Golf Open presented by Mazda) and get some money on the board and then luckily I managed to get an invite to Denmark (the ECCO Tour Championship presented by Thomas Björn and Mercedes Benz), finished ninth there, and it all just kicked off. Achieving second place at the M2M Russian Challenge Cup was the turning point though I suppose.
“It was crazy. My main goal at the beginning of the year, or even halfway through the year, was to get a Challenge Tour card for the following season, then suddenly I was looking at a top 45 finish and the Grand Final.”
The former England Boys International had already managed to qualify for The Open Championship at Royal St George’s a month prior to his fourth Challenge Tour appearance of the year in Denmark.
Johnston earmarks that experience, and particularly the practice round he played with the legendary Tom Watson, as one of the greatest and most educational moments of his career.
“I learned so much that week, to play a practice round with Tom Watson was incredible,” he explained. “He was such a nice guy, I just had general chat with him and just watched where he was hitting, where he was chipping from and where he was putting to. It was really a great experience.
“I learned a lot about pressure and how to deal with pressure when I played The Open and I took that into the Challenge Tour Final.”
That week on Italy’s Adriatic coast provided an epic climax to a career-defining season. With his girlfriend, brother and manager by his side at San Domenico, he stormed through the field to finish tied third and climb from 27th position in the Rankings to 15th, earning full European Tour membership for the first time in the process.
“I felt really calm all week in Italy,” he reflected, “it was nice to have my girlfriend, brother and manager there and I just wanted to give it my best shot.
“To be honest, I had already met my goals for the year by getting into the top 45 so I just went out and played golf, and that really helped me I think.
“In the last round, I knew I was up there and had a chance to get into the top 20 so it was pretty nerve-wracking but I managed to get the ball around and luckily it all went well.”An animated figure on the golf course, Johnston is a player who will certainly get the crowds fired up if given the chance on the big stage in 2012 – “I do take everything out on to the course with me,” he admitted.
Having started playing golf at the age of four, when his father took him out to local fields to play, he joined North Middlesex Golf Club close to his home at the age of nine.
He was soon recommended to his local county training system before being promoted to the England Boys team at the age of 14.
It was in the England Boys set-up where Johnston claimed the first big win of his golf career, claiming the R&A Trophy at the Home Internationals alongside such current professionals as Tommy Fleetwood, Matt Haines and Matthew Nixon.Since then, wins have been elusive, but the man who is affectionately known as “beef” amongst friends and fellow players is not overly concerned and is confident of making an impression on The European Tour.
“I'm not going to worry too much about winning, I'm just going to go into next year hoping to continue the form I showed this year and if it happens, it happens; if it doesn’t it doesn’t,” he mused.If anything is to be taken from the last four months, it’s that the congenial Johnston is most comfortable as a dark horse. Mark your card.