The Miracle of Wigan: A PDC Development Tour Diary
Last year, I participated in the Development Tour, also known as the PDC's youth circuit. Players aged between 16 and 23 can gain extra experience on the Tour.
My decision to participate came completely out of the blue. I had a look on the darts calender and noticed the last weekend of the Development Tour 2018 was on the schedule. I suddenly realized that this was my last chance to participate. In October I became 24 years old. Because the PDC requires entrants this season to be below 24 on 2 January 2018, I was eligible for one final weekend.
So it was a matter of now or never. I have no ambition to become a professional darts player and I might not even get a Tour Card if the PDC creates a third-tier Tour. As part of my dartsnews.com work, I regularly visit televised events such as the World Championship and the World Matchplay. In addition, I also have visited the Pro Tour a number of times. But the Development Tour was still missing on my list.
After some thought, I decided to book my trip and enter the last four Development Tour events. A small piece of advice for players who want to participate in future; make sure you have a sponsor backing you. The costs for a weekend like this are about £500, including fees to enter the events (£25 per event, so £100 for a full weekend), travel, hotel, food and drink.
Last weekend was the final chance for players to qualify for the World Youth Championship, or the biggest one of all, the PDC World Championship. None of that was feasible for me and, unlike most other players, I traveled without any pressure to Wigan. Winning a leg would be nice, I thought. And otherwise, it's a nice new experience.
In any case, I expected to shake hands with my opponent four times, each time after playing four legs in best of seven games. As a sports fan it was almost sacrilegious to think this way. Athletes with a defeatist attitude annoy me, but it was important to be realistic. And so my weekend of darting discovery began.
PDC Development Tour 17
The first matches of the tournament started at 10:30 am, so at 7 am the alarm went off. I changed my clothes quickly, had breakfast and then headed for the venue. From my arrival time, I had two hours to prepare for the toughest test of my darting life.
I had visited the Pro Tour a few times in the past, so I knew how events like this work. About eight or sixteen boards behind each other, with enough space between the different oches. Fences prevented players guests from standing too close to the players.
In the past I have played a few tournaments on the Dutch circuit (NDB ranking). It immediately struck me that these events are a lot less chaotic then the organisation at the NDB. It was clear when, where and against whom you played - it was announced about an hour before the start of the tournament. In addition, there were board officials, who each had the authority over a number of boards to make the tournament as smooth as possible.
I saw that I had drawn Cameron Anderson in the first round of Development Tour 17. He beat Berry van Peer and Ryan Meikle earlier this year, so I knew I had to throw well and hoped that I would come close to winning a leg.
During the first leg I noticed that I still had some problems with nervousness, and did not even came close to a finish. Anderson immediately started fine with a 16-darter. My second and third leg were okay, but ended the same way.
The fourth - and final - leg was almost as bad as my first one a 4-0 thrashing was quickly wrapped up. I was surprised I still managed to average over 50, which was not bad for me. My English opponent averaged 88 and was clearly too good for me.
PDC Development Tour 18
Later on the day I got another chance, during PDC Development Tour 18. The strange thing was that I was much more nervous for this match than before my debut game. I had enormous problems with sweaty hands and was not focused at all. I lost 4-0 again (to Sebastian Pohl), and felt similarly grim leaving the oche. Surely Sunday would go better?
My mood picked up when I saw that two Dutch players had reached the final. Berry van Peer won the tournament after a 5-4 victory over Geert Nentjes. It was a nice victory for a man who struggled with dartitis around this time last year.
PDC Development Tour 19
I had to wake up early again on Sunday, a bit earlier then on Saturday, to have more time for breakfast. I decided to introduce a few more breaks between practicing on Sunday, to save some energy for a second long day.
The draw was announced and I saw that I had a bye in the first round. That counts as a win, right?
James Clark was my opponent in the second round. I looked at his results from previous tournaments and I saw that he averaged 45 in his last game. My eyes widened and my heart began racing, because I realized that I would never get a better chance to win a PDC match. In addition, it was a second round match, so a win would earn me £50 prize money.
In the first leg of the match against Clark I immediately achieved my big goal of the weekend. I WON A LEG! I hit tops and broke my opponent's throw. Then I doubled my lead with a 52 finish. Neither of us performed well, perhaps because we both knew this was a once in a lifetime chance for us. In the end consistency paid off, and I claimed a 4-0 whitewash win.
I quickly gave my opponent a handshake, thanked the scorer and then spared a moment of joy for myself. I had won a match and I had 50 pounds in the pocket. My weekend could not get any better. I could retire proudly, at my peak. But first I had to play a board final.
In the board final against Lewis Pride, I played a little better than during the game I won. However, I only had one chance to win a leg. I managed to make the most of this chance with a 93 finish via the treble 19, one dart just inside on double 18, and one spot-on effort at double 9. Apart from that, chances were few and far between, and I lost 4-1. But I was not disappointed - my weekend was already successful.
PDC Development Tour 20
After a few hours of waiting, I had to play again. The draw put me against George Killington, one of the big names on the Development Tour and a PDC Tour Card holder. Killington was battling with Dutchman Geert Nentjes and Ted Evetts for two World Championship spots.
The other Dutch players drew my attention to this, and I solemnly promised to do my very best. Of course I knew quite well that I was faced with an impossible task.
I lost for a fourth time this weekend, but managed to go out on a high. In the fourth leg of the match, Killington missed the bullseye for a 170 checkout. I had 64 left and took out single 16, single 8 and tops to win a leg against a Tour Card holder.
I shouted, 'Come on!'. and my opponent gave me a fistbump - probably out of surprise, as he wouldn't have expected much resistance from me. One leg later we had switched up to shaking hands. Killington beat me 4-1 and I was finished. My two-day darts career was over.
The rest of the second day was spent following the results of Nentjes and my roommate Jeffrey de Zwaan. Nentjes made the last 16, which secured a World Championship spot and a Tour Card for him. It was a great success for the young Dutchman, who played with a huge smile on his face all weekend.
De Zwaan unfortunately ended up losing in the semi-final against Christian Bunse, who beat him 5-3. The last tournament on the 2018 PDC Development Tour was eventually won by Evetts, who had seen off van Peer in the second semi-final.
My goal was to win a leg. I ended up winning a game and £50 in prize money, as well as taking a leg off two top players. I had won six legs all weekend. But I can say for sure that I have now retired at my peak.