What’s remarkable about the two most recent PDC stage winners is that they’ve won from left field, but haven’t caused a great shock.
Nathan Aspinall lost his Tour Card at the start of 2017, and didn’t get it back. Now he’s a major winner and a World Series champion. Jamie Hughes has been on the Pro Tour since January 17 this year. PDC life has agreed with him. Yozza is the first ever Czech Darts Open title holder.
They’re the world number 13 and 67 respectively. Hughes is likely to shoot up the rankings – the talent at his disposal has no ceiling. The same could be said of Aspinall.
And they’re not alone. Dimitri van den Bergh. Jeffrey de Zwaan. Krzysztof Ratajski. Gabriel Clemens. Corey Cadby. Glen Durrant. That’s just a fraction of the players aiming for the top of the PDC rankings having been completely out of the frame not long ago.
It has already been a superb season, and it’s only July. We’ve seen 11 different Pro Tour winners, and five different European Tour winners. 20 players have been runner-up in at least one of the two. Averages are through the roof. And across the PDC spectrum, there have been as many nine-darters now – in July – as in any preceding year.
Are we in the golden age of darts?
The truth is that we’ve never seen depth like this. It’d be disingenuous to claim players weren’t as good in the past. In fact, the levels some of the top players reached despite not having a professional lifestyle (or paycheques) is incredible. In this new era of professionalism, however, there are more players who can pile in a three-figure average than ever.
Tournaments, particularly majors, are more competitive than ever. The World Matchplay field is, in a word, scary. And arguably the most talented player ever to throw darts – Michael van Gerwen – will never be able to create the sort of dynasty Phil Taylor did because of the number of players ruthless enough to take him down.
We now go into events not truly knowing what’s going to happen. And when players like Aspinall or Hughes does win, we’re not surprised, we’re simply glad that players with mesmerising ability have found the success they deserve.
Cooking up brilliance
I’d argue that we’re not witnessing the greatest era of the spot. Not quite yet, anyway. The recipe for success still needs a few ingredients mixed in.
One thing we need is a strong BDO. Not every player can be a PDC Tour Card holder. And while the Challenge Tour has proved to be an ideal testing ground for the likes of Hughes, there’s no substitute for big stage experience.
The Finder Darts Masters is no longer an option, and the future of other majors is up in the air, but the Lakeside is still a haven of top darts. The BDO has a track record for blooding the best players around, even if they don’t make the switch to the PDC.
The World Series is a handy reminder of the talent that exists around the world. It feels like the true golden age of the sport will come at a time when the top echelon is more of a cosmopolitan array.
Right now, the world’s top 32 are almost exclusively British, Australian or Dutch (there are just four exceptions). Considering the rapid rise of certain stars, we could see Poland, Japan, Germany or even the USA join the game’s powerhouses in the foreseeable future. There are talent pools yet to be tapped in much of Africa, South America and larger nations such as China or India.
Darts is one of a rare breed of sports where money doesn’t matter all that much – and it means that a world champion could come from any nation, if they have the talent, the time and the support structure.
Much like some of the players populating the top level of the game now, there’s no telling how far darts can go.Tags: Column
Author: Ed McCosh