Luke Humphries has been earmarked as a rising star for some time by darts followers. But during the PDC World Darts Championship, he made himself known to the world.
Humphries emerged as one of the breakout stars of the World Championship, defeating Adam Hunt, Stephen Bunting, Dimitri van den Bergh and defending world champion Rob Cross en route to the quarter-finals. Michael Smith put an end to the fairytale, before going on to finish runner-up to Michael van Gerwen.
Almost two weeks after his momentous Ally Pally run came to an end, the 23-year-old sat down with Dartsnews.com for an exclusive interview. As well as looking back on his World Championship adventure, Humphries discussed the PDC Development Tour – which laid the foundation for his big stage success.
Reviewing the World Championship
When the former roofer, who resigned from his job in March 2018 to become a full-time darts player, was asked for his most memorable World Championship moment, there were no doubts.
”Definitely taking out world champion Rob Cross,” Humphries said with confidence.
“It was a great feeling, beating the reigning champion at that time, especially when I came back from two sets behind. The 170 I took out against Michael Smith in the quarter-finals was pretty special too.
”After beating Adam Hunt I believed I could go deep into the World Championship. It was a great first round performance and I felt very comfortable up on the stage. I knew that if I could replicate anything close to my first round match I could go on a good run, and I did play well in most of my matches.”
The Newbury ace’s second World Championship campaign was halted by the 5-1 reverse against Smith in the quarter-finals. That result did nothing to spoil the experience, with Humphries – now £50,000 richer – happy with what he achieved overall.
”Michael was the much better player in the game, he pretty much outscored me and I didn’t have the scoring power I did the day before against Cross,” he admitted.
“I took so many positives out of my journey in the World Championship, and I’ll be looking to build on them in the coming season.”
The strong performance at the Alexandra Palace means expectations will be heightened going forward. Dimitri van den Bergh and Jamie Lewis had similar treatment a year ago, after they reached the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively. It didn’t pan out for the pair, who struggled for results on the Pro Tour.
”The difference between me on the one hand, and Jamie and Dimitri on the other hand, is they had four or more years on the Pro Tour,” Humphries surmised.
“Then they had that run in the World Championship and people expected to much from them. There is no pressure on me, this year will still only be my second year.
“Just because I had a great run in the World Championship doesn’t mean I will start throwing 100 averages all the time. I’m still learning and looking to improve little bits every year.”
This means he has no plans to put extra pressure on himself because of one good tournament.
”Absolutely not. Adding more pressure to myself will only hinder my progress. I think the rate I’ve progressed has been at a steady pace and I’m hoping to continue that way.
“My aim when I got my PDC Tour Card was to get into the top 64 on the Order of Merit after two years. But now I’m 57th after one year, and I’ll look to try and sneak into the top 32 maybe by the end of the year. But that will be very tough to do.”
Next stop; World Series?
Humphries challenged on two fronts, the PDC Challenge Tour and Development Tour, two years ago. In 2018 he played on both the Pro Tour and the Development Tour. PDC Chairman Barry Hearn suggested after the World Championship final that ‘Cool Hand Luke’ could take a step in a new direction during the new season.
When Hearn announced the line-up for the Premier League Darts, he said that an invitation for players like Nathan Aspinall, Dimitri van den Bergh and Luke Humphries would be premature. However, Hearn hinted at a possible invitation to the World Series tournaments for the youngsters.
”I did hear Barry Hearn say that. Of course I would be delighted and proud if he did put me in one of those tournaments,” said Humphries.
“I think a World Series event would be great for me. It would give me much more valuable stage time as I feel I’m always improving every time I step on there. It would also show that hard work and performing well in a World Championship gives you rewards.”
The World Series offers invitees the chance to see the world and toe some exotic oches, but Humphries already has a preferred venue in mind.
”I would probably pick Las Vegas if I would be allowed to choose one of the World Series events. It’s an amazing place and darts is really growing in the United States of America and Canada.
“It would be a great tournament to take part in. I wouldn’t mind Germany too, as I get lots of support there and I love playing on the European Tour.”
Development Tour foundations
Humphries turns 24 on February 11. It means this year will be his last season on the Development Tour, the PDC’s youth system created for players aged 16 to 23 years. Because the Berkshire-based thrower was still 23 on January 1, 2019, he can play for the entire season.
The 23-year-old has gained plenty of success as well, finishing top of the Order of Merit twice in a row. While Humphries is disappointed to bid it farewell, his focus is now on sealing top spot for a third and final time.
”I love playing on the Development Tour. It’s been the making of me, and I’m very sad that this will be my last year. My goal will be firmly on getting a hat-trick of Development Tour Order of Merit wins, and hopefully a World Youth title to go with it this year.”
Practice makes perfect, so they say. And in locales such as Wigan, Barnsley and Hildesheim, Humphries has forged a battling spirit that led him to success on the sport’s biggest stage.
”The Development Tour taught me to be a fighter when you’re on the cusp of losing,” he mused.
“Many times I was 2-0 or 3-1 down in Development Tour matches, and I still went on to win. It has enabled me to play in more competitive tournaments and learn at a much faster rate than someone who is over 24 and not able to play on the Development Tour.”
With Christian Bunse and Niels Zonneveld winning a Tour Card at PDC European Q-School, the top 10 from the 2018 Development Tour Order of Merit all have a Tour Card for the next season. According to Humphries, this is purely proof of a successful system.
”I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all. I think it’s something that is just generally happening in the game. Ten years ago there was a minimal amount of under 25’s on the PDC Pro Tour, whereas nowadays there is a huge chunk of us coming through. It just show how hard I had to work for my two Development Tour wins, knowing that there are ten plus PDC Tour Card holders playing on it.”
Humphries is being widely billed as one of a class of players destined for future greatness. Players like van den Bergh, Jeffrey de Zwaan and Ted Evetts have excelled at the World Championship, and ‘Cool Hand Luke’ backed the trio to do damage on the senior circuit.
”Dimitri van den Bergh, Jeffrey de Zwaan, Ted Evetts and myself all definitely have the talent to get into the top 32 for sure. If we all play like we can, you may see us in there sooner than later,” he predicted.
”There is more strength in depth in my generation, but we all know there’s no good being built up and not providing any evidence. We’ve all been given the platform to excel and it’s now up to us, if we put the hard work and dedication needed to succeed in this sport.”
We asked Humphries to name ten players who he predicts will be in the top 16 of the PDC Order of Merit three years from now in January 2022, following the 2022 PDC World Darts Championship.
Humphries’ predicted ten names in top 16
Michael van Gerwen
Dimitri van den Bergh
Jeffrey de Zwaan
And hopefully myself!