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Column #CM18 The 2017 UK Open

Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Column CM18
The 2017 UK Open

When I left home to travel to the UK Open I was still reeling from the news of Stacy Bromberg’s death. I suppose I am what Dartoid calls a “collected” friend, although I didn’t see Stacy often.

I first learned about her at the SEWA darts forum when I started to get interested in darts. I soon found out about her darting achievements and her involvement in charity. I was very much impressed!

At that time, the Las Vegas Desert Classic still was played and Stacy always organized a fund raiser. From what I was told it was the place every dart player headed when in Las Vegas.

Sometime later the “Shot! affair” took place and I well remember all the outrage it sparked among my American friends – while I just couldn’t help to feel amused. Of course, Stacy’s idea to change the Shot! logo on some tournament dart boards into Snot! was not the way a grown-up role model dart player should behave…

I am often reminded of an incident on a tram I used. A small boy, perhaps five years of age, and his mother sat beside one of those alarm buttons you can find in some public transport. The mother told her son he was not allowed to press it, that the guard would be very angry if he did. Well, I think it was foreseeable the boy got very interested in the button and in the end was of course overcome by his curiosity. He pressed the button, the guard appeared, and the young boy began to cry. The guard was not too angry and the boy soon sensed that a lot of people looked at him more with good-humored sympathy than with fury.

I can imagine Stacy standing in front of those dartboards – wondering what one could do with the word “Shot!” Probably her fingers were itching to try and it got worse every second until she couldn’t resist any longer and just had to give it a go. I’ve no idea whether the manufacturer, Puma, reacted with good-humored sympathy. Perhaps they might parlayed it into some kind of creative marketing concept. But some reactions were certainly ill-humored.

For me, Stacy changed from an awe-inspiring idol into a vitally alive woman with humor, curiosity, and courage. Perhaps this was sometimes not fully taken into account. Perhaps some people’s impression of Stacy were too much influenced by other people’s reactions. For this, I felt a lot of sympathy.

When some time later I finally met Stacy who she really was was confirmed and I liked her even more – he accepted me immediately as her friend. It always was easy to talk to her. She was very outspoken – something I envied in her because I am much more reluctant. But even so she was outspoken her friendliness won many people over and often made it difficult to feel insulted by her directness. We always planned to meet again but due to her illness never managed. For me it was a very sad day when I heard she had passed away, although of course we all knew she was very ill.

As the journey to Minehead where the UK Open takes place is quite long and a little bit complicated, I stayed one night in Bath on my way. It was Premier League evening and Michael van Gerwen had withdrawn as he had problems with his back – no wonder when you look at his throw (more so and very definitely early in his darting career). On my way from Bath to Minehead I wondered whether van Gerwen would be able to take part in the UK Open.

As it turned out he was not able to compete and defend his title. I myself had already attuned to another Van Gerwen/Wright final – now I was suddenly without a favorite.

The start into the tournament was a little bit strange – no van Gerwen, no Taylor – and the crowd seemed to be rather unsure as well what would happen and for whom to cheer. So the two first rounds felt a little bit lackluster. The weather was cold, rainy, and windy and the way to the main venue and from the main venue to the second stage was no fun.

The first day is always a little bit confusing as many matches are concurrently played on eight different stages – I am sure I missed a lot of good darts! For me one of the big surprises of the early rounds was that Terry Jenkins lost to Ronnie Baxter. Quite a few of the “old” names had a good run on this first day – Ronnie Baxter was one of them as were Alan Tabern and Barrie Bates.

In the evening, after a draw, the third round was played and with it the “big guns” entered the tournament, which picked up pace. More favorites were eliminated as James Wade was drawn against Adrian Lewis and somehow Lewis managed to snatch the win – it was not a great match. This followed the biggest upset of the day when Gary Anderson lost to amateur qualifier Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan. In Hogan’s case the “amateur” is a little bit misleading – although Paul Hogan is an amateur he is a very experienced BDO player and winner of several tournaments. Finally the crowd started the thaw – an underdog had appeared a giant-killer! Hogan was the only amateur who survived the first day this year – but the tournament had lost two more favorites.

After the matches, the fourth round draw was completed and guess what happened – the giant-killer was drawn against another Top Ten player – Adrian Lewis.

When the second day began there were not many winner options left and Peter Wright had moved up to be the top favorite…

For the fourth round the number of boards had been reduced although the tournament was still played in three different venues. Stage two had Richard Ashdown as the MC and people seemed to like it – the venue was packed the whole day. Ashdown is much more the entertainer than John McDonald, the PDC MC who only announces the players.

Ashdown turned up on stage between the matches as well and talked to the crowd – the result was a cracking atmosphere. Of course the venue got even more packed when Paul Hogan appeared again on stage. He had refused to walk on with a crocodile but nevertheless made a real walk-on. While the players before only had walked up the few stairs to the stage Hogan walked all around the stage shaking hands with the fans behind the barrier. All other players who played on the stage two after him – including his opponent Adrian Lewis – followed his example. Lewis never really was in the match while Hogan again played great and was very sure with his finishes. So we saw the next upset and Lewis was out of the tournament as well! The crowd was delighted! That was exactly what the UK Open is about!

After the fourth round the boards were reduced to two, venues to two and players to 16. A new draw took place and I – and probably big parts of the crowd – hoped Paul Hogan would now be drawn against Peter Wright. But it didn’t happen – Paul Hogan’s fifth round opponent was a certain Gerwyn Price from Wales and the match was played on the main stage in the big tent venue.

It looked as if Paul Hogan had started to think a lot about what had happened up until now and felt a little unsettled on the main stage – his clinical finishing had disappeared and former rugby player Gerwyn Price had no problem winning the match. In fact, all surprise players – Rob Cross, Martin Lukeman, and Alan Tabern – were out of the tournament after the fifth round. We were left with Gerwyn Price, Alan Norris, Kim Huybrechts, Peter Wright, Ian White (I wondered where he had come from – I had overlooked him so far), Simon Whitlock, Raymond van Barneveld and Daryl Gurney – and only one venue and one board. Van Barneveld was the only Dutchman standing out of 12 who had entered the tournament.

After the quarter final draw, people left the venues and the press room. Probably the Butlin’s guests went on to some evening entertainment while I just walked along the seafront back to my comfortable bed and breakfast, a cup of hot chocolate, and a book to settle my nerves after all the thrilling action.

I started my last UK Open day quite fresh and recovered while a lot of fans looked bleary-eyed and quite a few missed the early matches of the day. What a shame as all four quarter final matches on the afternoon of day three were close and thrilling.

Doubles and emotions were a big issue! First, we had the doubles issue – at least for Kim Huybrechts and Ian White. Huybrechts had several match darts but couldn’t hit the winning double and lost to Alan Norris, who was a deserved winner. For his part, Ian White didn’t miss but he hit the wrong double – instead of the double 10 he needed he hit double 15 and busted. And Gerwyn Price used the chance for a 160 finish and hit it! Understandably, Ian White was devastated…

The two emotional quarter finals followed. Daryl Gurney and Peter Wright both won and burst into tears. Gurney even had to cling to his bewildered opponent Simon Whitlock while Peter Wright had no one to cling to as Raymond van Barneveld disappeared immediately from stage and declared his retirement from darts. By the way – Barney played great darts in Premier League almost two weeks after the UK Open…

So we were down to a Scotsman, an Englishman, a Welshman and a player from Northern Ireland for the semi finals. We once again had a draw and a break and I again recovered with several cups of hot tea and hot chocolate while the players tried to tune in for the semi finals.

The evening session started with the semi final between England and Wales – Norris vs. Price – and Wales prevailed! This was a great achievement for the former rugby player and Barrie Bates’ protégé Gerwyn Price who first appeared on the Pro Tour in 2014. The two tearful players from Scotland and Northern Ireland – Wright and Gurney – met in the second semi final which was not as close as the first and but dominated by Wright while Gurney showed nerves. Before Wright was able to burst into tears again loser Gurney persuaded him to dance together over the stage.

There was no draw before the final as only two players were still in the tournament and after a short break the final started. It was the first time during the tournament that Price showed nerves, which affected his finishing. Sometime in the match he finally settled but it was too late as Wright was already too far in front.

So in the end, the only still standing favorite won the tournament – deservedly – as he had been the best and most consistent player throughout the event. And to be sure – as no one was around to dance with or to cling to – Peter Wright burst into tears again and it took some time until he found words to answer questions.

There is not much time for celebrating when the tournament is over. Most players already had left the venue. The officials disappear very fast as well and only some media remain busy with updates or winner interviews and pictures while the dismantling is underway. The crowd scattered fast so Butlin’s was a rather empty place when I finally left.

Was it a good tournament?

I think it was. We had drama, upsets, emotion, and high-class performances, although the tournament showed that “heroes” like Taylor and van Gerwen are important for the fans, that it can be irritating when neither is present.

It showed as well that there are a lot of really good dart players outside the Top Ten.

It showed that notwithstanding all the hard work the up and coming young players are putting in they are not yet a match for those who have already made it – at least I couldn’t spot a rising star.

Finally, it showed that despite all the Dutch players on the circuit – when van Gerwen is not around darts still is very much a British dominated sport.