It’s dubbed the ‘FA Cup of darts’ — the PDC’S UK Open gives anybody in the country a chance to take on the world’s best at a major televised event.
128 players take part in the competition, held at Butlins in Minehead. However, of those, 32 are winners of regional Riley’s qualifiers held around the country, and are open to virtually everyone. Win on the day and you could potentially face the likes of five-time Open winner Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, reigning World Champion Gary Anderson, and last year’s runner up — Mendham’s own ‘Snakebite’ Peter Wright.
I thought I would give it a go. You only live once and it only cost £6 to enter. So on Sunday I travelled to South Benfleet, Essex, for a day of tungsten tussles.
Even the application form makes you realise how big time even these qualifiers are, asking for a nickname and walk-on music should you be successful.
And I knew that if I wanted Ozzy Osbourne’s Crazy Train to be blaring out around Minehead at the start of March, I would need something of a darting miracle.
Most who know me are aware I’m a bit of a darts nut. I’ve been to Lakeside, the Premier League, the World Championships and the Masters as a spectator.
I knew that if I wanted Ozzy Osbourne’s Crazy Train to be blaring out around Minehead at the start of March, I would need something of a darting miracle
I would be going to the Open regardless, along with 15 other friends, having bought tickets last year.
I am, at best, an OK pub darts player. I win more than I lose, and, if I could take a leg, I would have been chuffed. But it wasn’t my first experience at giving the UK Open a crack, either.
Back in 2012 I entered the Brighton qualifier when a student at the University of Portsmouth, getting through my first round 4-0 before being whitewashed by the eventual runner-up, who beat me up all around the oche with a dazzling darting display.
Practicing had been fairly good for this year’s effort. I hit 180s on Friday and Saturday, missed a double for a 14-dart leg, and had opportunities for some big outs, including 150, 135, and 132.
Back in December I also, very fortunately, had the opportunity to practice and take on Peter Wright for a Diss Express feature, picking up some tips on the way.
Arriving at the Rileys venue, only 81 of the 121 entered players had entered. There were eight boards up — players ranging from the average Joes like me, to Super League and county players. Maximums were flying in all over the shop and some even had their own shirts.
When the action began, an elderly chap took out an 11 dart leg. To say I felt out of my depth was an understatement.
I was drawn against a gentleman called Ian Bryant. He didn’t have a proper darts shirt with a fancy nickname on. A good sign.
It was best of seven legs, and, having won the bull-off, I started proceedings.
A lucky treble 12 meant 76 for my first visit, which I followed with a ton. This would have to be maintained for me to stand any chance.
The first leg got away from me - Ian taking out tops - but it was really the second leg where the match, psychologically, was decided.
I had played pretty well, leaving 48. Hitting 8 for tops, I narrowly strayed into double 5, just next door to double 20. Double 15 soon became double 4.
That soon was halved to double 2. Ian, in the madhouse, took the leg after a slog.
The third leg I did not get down to a checkout which was poor, and then, waiting on 32, he took out double 18 to deservedly beat me with a whitewash,
If you lost your game, you had to stay on the same board and mark the next contest. It gave a pretty good insight into the health of the amateur game. The vast majority of those at South Benfleet will probably never get the chance to play on the professional tour.
The first three darts were a maximum. His opponent fired back with a 140. There were check outs of 96 and 112, and plenty of sub 15-dart legs.
The eventual winner was Barry Lynn. A quick search on the internet shows a video when he took on former World finalist Andy Hamilton in 2014 in the German Darts Championship.
I better get back on the practice board...