When the dust has settled on the latest World Championship campaign, January in the darting world always presents opportunity and hope to a crop of players with dreams and aspirations of getting themselves onto the professional circuit via a mentally draining, exhausting, and grueling Qualifying School system.
Haupai Puha arrived in Germany as one of many hopefuls in attendance at the EU staging and made history by becoming the first-ever New Zealander to secure himself a PDC Tour Card. 2023 saw Hopes pick up valuable experience and exposure in World Series events, his victory over Dimitri Van den Bergh in Hamilton a particular highlight, and that, combined with some dominant runs in PDC New Zealand Tour events meant he was perfectly prepared for all of the trials and tribulations that come along with a Q-School campaign.
As we’ve seen with the likes of Damon Heta, Simon Whitlock, and others before them, the commitment required to dedicate yourself to the tour is a huge sacrifice and it wasn’t a decision Haupai made lightly. Now things are about to get serious for the Kiwi who will participate in the first block of Players Championship events in Wigan on the 12th and 13th February and we wish him and all of our other players in attendance the very best of luck!
As for 2023 World Champion Michael Smith he has already made a successful start to the new PDC season, claiming victory on the opening night of Premier League action in Cardiff. Bully Boy got the better of Michael van Gerwen, Luke Littler, and Gerwyn Price and sits top of the table. The darting roadshow next rolled into Berlin. It wasn't to be for Michael Smith in this week's Premier League semi-final, losing out in a decider to MvG. The night 1 winner should certainly be happy with his return of 7 points after 2 nights though.
Speaking after his triumph in the Welsh capital, Bully Boy said: “I’ve got many motivations at the start of this year. I didn’t get goosebumps when John McDonald introduced me to the crowd as a former World Champion in Bahrain on the World Series. It’s given me the kick I needed, I’m going to do everything within my powers to make sure I get back to world number one and world champion as soon as possible.
“Winning on the opening night of the Premier League was a great feeling, I’ve known for some time that my game is getting better and better. I said before Thursday night that things were starting to click and it means a lot to see it all come together, to put a marker down so early on.
“I got a telling off from the wife when we were in Den Bosch because she said it looked like I was making hard work of everything, I was throwing too slow. So in the build up to my opening Premier League match, I focussed on that rhythm, and eventually, it’s taken some time, but it’s all starting to come good.
“I wanted to prove everyone wrong. People have spoken about my darts a lot but I want to keep showing that it’s all about me, I hadn’t been practising, hadn’t been doing things right. In the last three months, I’ve been practising hard again, everyone knows how big a practicer I am and I’ve spoken about how that wasn’t the case after winning the World Championship but I’m not going to put too much pressure on myself this year and hopefully that’ll help me to get back to the version of Michael Smith that was reaching finals and winning tournaments more regularly.”
Hopes gaining his professional status and Bully Boy making a winning start in the Premier League aren’t the only positives for Team Shot this month, we are delighted to be working with a number of youngsters with immense potential, including 2020 World Youth Champion Bradley Brooks, World Cup participants and teammates Craig Galliano and Justin Hewitt as well as Jack Male and Gavin Nicoll.
Whilst things didn’t quite go to plan for Bam Bam at Q-School in January, there is no disputing his ability and potential to succeed on the main circuit. Having won five Development Tour titles in total, he showed a number of times last year how high a ceiling he has - most notably in the first Dev Tour event of 2023, averaging in excess of 120 to get the better of Sem Devoght in Milton Keynes. During his time as a Tour Cardholder, Brooks enjoyed a number of decent runs on the Pro Tour and we look forward to helping him return to where we believe he belongs, as quickly as possible.
We saw Galliano and Hewitt representing Gibraltar at the World Cup of Darts last summer, where they learnt a lot and gained some valuable experience, convincingly getting the better of Guyana before losing to Australia in the group stages. It is a thrilling time for darts in Gibraltar, the overall standard is getting better all the time and we are extremely eager to be working with two of the brightest emerging talents from that part of the world. With both players benefitting enormously from the PDC’s youth system of late, we can’t wait to aid and assist them in their development in 2024.
Jack Male joins us on the back of one of his most successful and progressive years on the Development Tour. Still just 22 years of age, another hugely gifted player and we can’t wait to hopefully help him continue his upward trajectory.
Gavin Nicoll has also become a member of the Shot Darts Tribe. We are seeing a real boom when it comes to North American darts right now, with our very own Stowe Buntz being one player at the heart of that exhilarating success. Nicoll is a young prospect who really is making the most of every opportunity being presented to him right now, he secured back-to-back titles at the Cleveland Extravaganza in 2018 and 2019 and has since continued to make strides in the youth game, notably on the CDC Junior Tour with 4 Wins and no less than 9 wins to date on the CDC Evolution Tour.
Image Courtesy of Kieran Cleeves/PDC