You notice two things about Luke Humphries right from the outset.

One; he’s very open, and up for a chat. Two; he’s even more open and chatty when the subject is darts. Dartsnews meets Humphries at the Lakeside, where talk turns to the BDO. As an avid darts watcher in all its forms, the 24-year-old has some thoughts.

“I’m a big fan of the BDO. I’m one of those people who just loves darts. I hope they do well in the future; it’s a shame they’re not here at the Lakeside but they’ve gone to a bigger place, and I wish them all the best.

“There’s lots of good players this year. My favourite to win it is Martijn Kleermaker – a very talented player. I’m looking forward to watching it!

“I had a chance to be at the Lakeside four years ago. As much as I didn’t try too hard to get to the Lakeside, I’d have loved to play here. It’s an iconic venue,” said the Berkshire star.

Work in progress

Humphries was on the darting scene at an early age, but dropped away before making a Development Tour comeback. Now he leaves the youth scene as a world champion, and one of the Tour’s best ever performers.

“I was playing darts as a 13,14 year old. I went to the Development Tour when it had just started. Actually, I got to a quarter-final of one [event], and lost to James Hubbard. When I was 16 and 17, I had a break,” he recalls.

“My mate Chris got me back into Super League in 2016. I’ve never looked back – I’ve had three superb years. It’s been amazing for me.

“When I won it in 2017, I think I dominated it, hugely. I think I’ve achieved everything I could’ve. 11 Development Tour titles, one world youth title – I couldn’t ask for more.

“I don’t know if I’d have a Tour Card without it!”

Ups and downs

Humphries has caught the eye for his maturity off the oche as well as talent on it. His forthright admission about mental health concerns, where he made sure to consider his best interests even if it meant giving up on darts, won him a lot of admiration.

“I had some very high moments. Quarter-finals of the World Championship – it’s something I’d always dreamed of. I never thought I’d get to a quarter-final. I played in the Premier League, against Gerwyn Price, and then had a struggle.

“I’d had it before, for personal reasons, not darts reasons. It started happening in darts, and I made the plunge to come out and be honest about my struggles,” said Humphries.

“I’m not mentally ill; I just had a bit of anxiety which made me feel uncomfortable on the stage. You feel you’re not good enough. I know I’m good enough, but that’s what mental health is all about. James Wade, he can tell you the same.”

The Machine has battled bipolar disorder throughout his career, having suffered setbacks in a very public setting. Wade had some succinct words of wisdom to give to his young counterpart.

“I did talk to him about it. Not in big detail…he just said to me, ‘Look, I’ve been through it. Just get yourself out the other end.’

“I think I’ve got myself out the other end now, and it’s up to me to progress,” said Humphries.

Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Champion

He is now the youth champion, no matter what any social media critics make of it. It was achieved in some style too, with Adam Gawlas defeated 6-0 in the Minehead final. Of course, as he is now 24, he won’t be defending the title. If anything, going out on such a high is perfect for him. Humphries has already decided who he’d like to see taking the crown from him next year.

“I see my world youth title as a reward for hard work over the last three years. 11 Development Tour titles…if I hadn’t won it, it would’ve been a disaster.

“Ted (Evetts), I hope he gets one in the next one or two years. He deserves it. I’m over the moon to have won the title.”

Ally Pally return

Humphries now makes his way back to the PDC World Championship this month, having made a huge splash last year. Cool Hand turned up the heat to beat Adam Hunt, Stephen Bunting and Dimitri van den Bergh, losing just two sets.

He then caused an all-timer of a shock, sending defending champion Rob Cross home with a 4-2 triumph. Michael Smith ended a dream run at the quarter-final stage, but the 24-year-old has quite the benchmark to work off this year.

He’s been handed a tricky opening assignment, with Devon Petersen his first round opponent.

“I’m looking forward to it. I’ve got great memories of the World Championship. I don’t deserve anything, so it’s up to me to play as well as I can,” Humphries said.

“Devon – I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I’m good friend with Devon. He’s got the heart of a warrior. Many times he’s lost, he’s not played well. But he’s full of confidence, he just says to himself, ‘Look, I can put this right’. I admire that.

“I know when I play him, it’s not going to be easy. If I’m 2-0 up, he’s not going to give up.

“It’s one of those games where, if I was a pundit losing through the glass, I’d say it will finish 3-2 either way.”

Moving swiftly on. Does the precedent set by last year’s run to the quarter-finals heap on the weight of expectation, or loosen the burden with a shot of confidence?

“It does both. It adds pressure, but my confidence is high. If I can play like I did last year, I think I’ll have no problems, Humphries reckons.

“It’s up to me to have the bottle on the stage and make it work.”

Despite all he’s been through – or perhaps because of it – bottle is something Humphries has plenty of.

Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

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Author: Ed McCosh