It was the moment that the headline act very nearly exited stage left.
Halfway down the third hole of his Australian PGA Championship debut at RACV Royal Pines Resort, Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston turned to his girlfriend Jodie in the gallery and said, “I’ve got to get out of here.”
A tee shot that barely crossed the hazard line before sailing deep into the lake abutting the 10th hole – his first of the day – set the early tone and when his tee shot at the par-5 12th also went to a watery grave the fan favourite looked like quitting before 7am.
After hitting his third shot he walked across the fairway to seek out his girlfriend with either a way out or a reason to keep going.
After recovering from his disastrous start where he was 3-over through three holes to shoot 5-under over his following 15 holes to end the round 2-under par, Johnston reflected on the moment where he nearly walked and how Jodie turned hm around.
Where ‘Beef’ thought it was a kind word that set him straight Jodie was adamant it was more of a kick up the arse – “I’ve obviously been a lot harsher if he thought that was a kind word” – but it put the popular Englishman back into tournament contention.
“Just a nice word, I think,” Johnston said of their exchange in the middle of the 12th fairway.
“Just to keep going, to remember that what I'm working on is new.
“I nearly walked off the course after 12, to be honest. It's been a frustrating year, and yeah, it's really annoyed me in the past.
“Really got to me out on 10 and on 12 after hitting two tee shots because I have been working so hard to try to get it right.
“But I spoke to my girlfriend and she just said keep going, so I did and I just tried to stay calm.
“Luckily I turned it around.”
Despite the tee shot at 13 requiring a water carry of 200-plus metres Johnston composed himself quickly enough to launch a drive straight down the middle but said it was his approach that set up birdie at the par-5 15th that sparked him to life.
Working on swing changes with new coach Hugh Marr, Johnston hit good approach shots at both 13 and 14 without converting but said it was a slight adjustment before hitting his second to 15 that saw him ultimately yield four birdies in his final seven holes.
“I had to hit sort of a cut around a tree and that's what I've been trying to do, I've been trying to start it left and hit a little fade,” Johnston said of his second shot at the 15th.
“I realised in my swing I needed to get the face a lot better, a lot more open to my path. When I hit that and I saw it cut, it felt a lot better and I hit it nicer the rest of the day.
“The problem is I've had this destructive shot, so I play seven, eight holes right and then I hit one and I make 6, and then hit another one out of bounds or something like that and it's just destructive.
“There I was able to play golf and put a score together for the rest of the holes because I didn't hit any destructive golf shots.”
No golfer is immune from mid-round swing horrors and as he composed a polished 4-under round of 68, Marc Leishman paid Johnston great credit for being able to fight back the way he did.
“I actually saw his tee shot on 10 there,” said Leishman, who was playing in the group behind Johnston.
“It obviously wasn't what he was after, but he's come a long way and he's not going to give up.
“I have been there and golf's a funny game. You can think you're playing great and then it can switch in the blink of an eye, and the other way as well like I guess he did today. Just got off to a bad start and then found something, and he was obviously 5-under from there on in, so that’s pretty impressive.
“When I get off to a start like that, the way I look at it is, well, that's all my bad holes out of the way for the tournament, just play smart from now on in and hope you don't do any more silly stuff.”
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