NEWS

Andrew Johnston surprises lookalike fan with a trip to the Open Championship

By Chris Vetter
Published on

Robert Bazal is passionate about golfing. He competes in leagues Mondays and Thursdays, and has golfed more than 20 times this summer. On several occasions, he has brought his 4-year-old son to watch.

"I golf as much as I can, with two little boys," Bazal said. "The wife wants me home; I want to golf."

Bazal, 34, of Cadott, is now getting to go on every golfer's dream road trip -- he leaves today to watch the 146th Open Championship, which will begin Thursday in England. Bazal owes it all to looking a lot like a famous British golfer, Andrew "Beef" Johnston. When Johnston previously won the French Open, he told interviewers he was celebrating by going to pubs to drink.

"Everyone in America just fell in love with him because he's just a good ol' boy," Bazal said.

Shortly after Bazal got married in May 2015, he stopped shaving, and he now, like Johnston, has a lengthy, well-groomed beard. Friends and fellow golfers have given him the nickname "American Beef" because of his resemblance to Johnston.

Bazal won his spot to join Johnston while attending the U.S. Open at Erin Hills golf course near Milwaukee. Bazal went to the round on June 17, hoping to meet his lookalike.

"I thought it would be great to get a picture with him," Bazal said. "We got there right as he was on the practice green, warming up."

Over the course of the day, about 20 people asked Bazal if he was related to Johnston. He also was interviewed by a reporter and, later in the day, was approached by a representative from Arby's restaurants, who told Bazal he would make sure he got the in-person meet-and-greet.

Bazal asked Johnston to sign his beard comb and his hat. Johnston surprised him by presenting him with an envelope. Inside was the proverbial golden ticket -- a trip for two to watch Johnston compete at the Open.

"I was just shocked," Bazal said. "I didn't know he was doing that."

Johnston made a great first impression.

RELATED: The Open Championship tee times | Sergio's plan: Play Open, then get married

"He just seems like a genuine, nice guy, just out there, having fun," Bazal said. "Everyone is just screaming 'Beef!' whenever they see him. And when he has a birdie, the crowd goes nuts."

The 146th Open Championship will be at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, on the northwestern coast of England. The golf course last hosted to the Open in 2008.

Bazal and his wife, Stephanie, will fly out of the Twin Cities today, head to Orlando, Fla., then to Manchester, England.

Bazal is one of four people nationwide who won the "Go Home With Beef" contest, sponsored by Arby's restaurant chain. Each winner is allowed to bring a companion on the trip. The restaurant chain is providing the all-expenses paid, week-long trip, including airfare and hotel.

The winners will reunite with Johnston on Wednesday at a local pub in England before beginning of the Open on Thursday. Bazal said he will return Monday.

"It sounds amazing," Bazal said. "It's going to be a blast."

Bazal works at Cortec in Eau Claire, which makes anti-corrosion products. He thanked his boss for allowing him to take the week off.

Bazal is a native of Wyoming, but he was bitten by the "golfing bug" in his senior year of high school in Missouri in 2001. He moved to Minnesota in 2008.

"I didn't know anyone when I moved there," he said. "I got a membership at the golf course, and just golfed every day. Now, all my friends are golfers."

He worked at a different Cortec facility in White Bear Lake, Minn., working second shift. He would routinely golf in the morning before going to work. He said he is an 11 handicap, meaning if a course has a 72 par, he would probably have a round of 83.

"One day I can shoot a 78; one day I can shoot a 95," he said.

This article is written by Chris Vetter from The Leader-Telegram and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.