Pro Darts – Class of 2010 Return to Earth with a Bang!

We left the “Class of 2010” at the end of the 2011/12 season after   two full seasons in the PDC. Six newcomers had taken to the professional game like lads to lager, but would they be able to withstand the pressures sure to come? Living up to expectations, earning their livings, coping with being known to all the other players and then defending their rankings and positions over the next few seasons.

Could they forge lasting careers in and places in the record books of modern professional darts?

High and Whitey 2012 smoke

It is now five full seasons since the boys of 2010 entered the PDC, during the first two years it was fair to say they had made superb starts and were in a position to make a genuine, and lasting, impact on the fast expanding and financially rewarding PDC Pro Circuit.

It is safe to say that the next three seasons have seen mixed results to say the very least.

Nigel “The Undertaker” Hayden:

Ranking after 2011/12 World Championships – 43

Current Ranking – 76

Nigel Heydon 2012

(Technically unranked as new Tour Card will be zeroed)

As noted in the original article Nigel had the fastest start of any of the new boys in 2010. He caught most of the established order napping, reaching a quarter-final in his first PDC weekend and a last 16 place in his first professional major appearance. During his second year strong floor form and appearances at The Grand Slam and The World Professional Championships ensured his star continued to rise.

During this time however Nigel was unfortunate enough to suffer from sponsorship issues which led to important events being missed. These may have resulted in more major qualifications and an even higher ranking. It is safe to say that the two years that followed were not of the same standard he had produced in his first two seasons.

His ranking began to slump and the upward momentum, that appeared to be with him, soon disappeared, to be replaced by a downward cycle. After failing to defend  his ranking points / pounds in 2012 and 2013 Nigel was forced to return to the beginning in 2014 and take Q school route to retain his tour card. Brilliantly he did so on the final day and chose to keep his current points total and have a single year card. This was a tactical mistake. Nigel then had a mixed year, showing some flashes of his true self but struggling overall. His runs to the last 32 of the UK open and a Pro Tour Semi underlined the talent he possesses.

This has been underlined once more in Q School 2015 where, despite having to return once again, Nigel qualified automatically for a tour card on day 1!

Future Prospects –

Nigel’s talent is clear to any who watch him regularly. The difficulty with combustible early sponsorship and the need to work full-time have placed limits on the extent to which this potential has been realised. It will take a sustained spell of focus and his very best performances to regain the momentum had in 2011/12. Without such a run, the yo-yo of Tour Card and Q School may continue.

Steve Farmer

Ranking after 2011/12 World Championships – 36

Steve Farmer 2011

Current ranking – Unranked

Even the stats given above do not give the true picture of the dramatic rise and fall of “The Train”. Within twelve months of joining the PDC Steve had won a Pro Tour event, finished runner-up in another, qualified for and played in three majors and The World Championships. For good measure he had reached the Semi-Finals of one of those majors! During the second year he had gone for the approach of not playing all events and coming on strong in the ones he did enter. This seemed to suit his game and the run to the last 16 of the 2011/12 worlds appeared to cement his place in the higher bracket.

All seemed to start well in 2012, with Steve correcting the previous error by qualifying for the UK Open. It should be mentioned that he did this is style with a competitive  9 dart leg in round 3. From there on however things completely reversed. Steve crashed out of that event early, qualified for no more majors that year and repeated the pattern in 2013. Over these two terrible years Steve’s ranking slipped to 49 and then outside the top 150. Following his failure to qualify, for the 2013/14 World Championships, Steve did not renew his membership of the PDPA and has not played events for over a year.

This unmatched decline seems to have involved a number of factors, the difficulty of earning a reliable living playing darts, whilst having to keep additional work to ensure family income, may have played a role. In addition Steve is not a keen long distance traveller and the growth in numbers and importance of European Tour events has worked to his disadvantage.

Future Prospects – 

In the case of Steve this is very difficult to project. He is a superb natural talent and is capable of defeating any individual or putting a tournament winning run together. Whether he ever wishes to make the attempt again may prove the deciding factor. To have achieved those heights so quickly and yet completely disappear from the rankings within another two years is an incredible but unwanted record.

Antonio “El Dartador” Alcinas

Ranking after 2011/12 World Championships – 50

Alcinas soft tip

Current Ranking – 120 (Officially unranked as no tour card)

Antonio’s defeat to Andy “The Hammer” Hamilton in the world championship seemed to be a high water mark for the Spaniard. His previous floor event form deserted him and despite qualifying for the European Championships and The UK Open on a number of occasions it seems a sustained run to a higher plateau is not within him.

Some of Antonio’s erratic form could be as the result of his other area of excellence. It should be remembered that he is only member of the class of 2010 to be a World Champion. His victory in the 2010 World Soft Tip event has led to him playing regularly on the soft tip tour and achieving very good results. This results in a huge a mount of travelling and possibly the distraction of being committed to more than one goal. Alcinas seems to thrive on success and momentum thus even in the darker times he can have runs in either format to earn good prize money and keep himself in contention.

Future Prospects

It is possible that “El Dartador” will become one of the first complete multi format darters. Due to his European nationality it is still easier for him to qualify for many PDC events than it is for the UK players and he seems to still do this with regularity. These events together with the World Cup of Darts, which will see him with a new partner in the form of Christo Reyes, seem to inspire him. For him to achieve much more he will have to concentrate on one tour and commit 100%. He appears to not need or want to do this and so will  probably continue to be a minor player in the PDC and still achieve spasmodic high notes both there and in the soft tip arena.

Scott Rand 

Ranking after 2011/12 World Championships – 41

Scott Rand

Current Ranking – 83 (Unranked due to no tour card).

After the huge success of 2011, with Scott reaching the Semi Finals of The Players Championships and the last 32 of the World Championships, the decision to become a full-time dart player was made. With a new management deal and a sponsorship from Target darts things seemed to be in place for a long and successful professional career for the former lorry driver. 2012 was a solid year on the Pro Tour but not strong enough for Scott to feature in additional majors. A decent UK Open and another last 32 place at the World Champs meant a consolidating year but not the upward curve that would have been anticipated. 2013 was much the same, with scattered highlights of good floor form , including quarter and semi finals, but no increase in major qualifications or impact.

Scott’s problems compounded in 2014, a very poor start to the year and failure to qualify for the UK Open seem to indicate more troubles for “Cool Hand”. His participation in the tour halted in July  2014 and he did not participate in either the qualification play-offs for events or the Q School for 2015.

Future Prospects – 

Scott’s ability and determination are not in doubt, his form and competitiveness never disappeared in the way of some other players. It appears that external matters, as well as the pressures of earning a living at the game, have combined to make things doubly tough for the midlander.

Rand has shown before that he can return from a period away and be successful. It may however be harder to manage such a comeback in the new PDC. It will be interesting to see if , when and where this superbly talented thrower will resurface.

Mark “Mile High” Hylton

Ranking after 2012 Worlds – 33

mh uk open 2012 v jabba action shot dart in air

Current Ranking – (Unranked due to no Tour Card).

The return to earth of “Mile High” is, perhaps, the most shocking of all the bumpy rides to befall the class of 2010. An perfect storm of events conspired to cause the Rugeley leftie to fall from the verges of the Premier League towards the end of 2011 to twice failing to secure a tour cards at the q schools of 2014 & 2015.

It is often said that it is more difficult to deal with and maintain success than it is to achieve it. Hylton struggled to maintain a stellar spell which saw two major qtr finals, an epic battle with Taylor at The Matchplay and a hat full of Pro Tour Qtr & Semi’ finals. Sadly the tail off was nearly as dramatic.  Personal circumstances produced a major blow for Mark following The Grand Prix and successive European Pro Tour events. Together with a slip in focus and difficulties coping with expectation, caused by the early success, this resulted in two successive first round major exits. Although both were close and well contested, the “Mile High” of a few months before would have won both with ease. The decline that had begun after the Benidorm  Pro Tour event in 2011 did not come to a stop.

As well as these extraneous matters the darting gods turned against Mark at this crucial time. Chizzy defeated Phil Taylor at the 2011/12 worlds, this ensured that Mark would not finish in the top 32 that year. The new European Tour was announced with the top 32 qualifying automatically. Thus Hylton was left having to struggle to qualify for events that due to some early gliches were handing players £1000’s for a couple of soft ish games. As a direct result Mark was unable to take advantage and lost ground in the early part of the year. When he finally played his way into the top 32 and qualification for Euro Tour events, he was then injured in a fall and unable to play!

Few highlights in the first half of 2012 included a pair of Pro Tour qtr finals, one of which was the hardest working I have seen, and a rally to the last 32 at the UK Open. That remains the last we have seen of “Mile High” on our screens or indeed at the later stages of any major. Following a parting of the ways with his management team his Pro Tour form deteriorated further and after falling out of the top 64, having not gained a tour card from Q School, he chose to pursue the PDC’s  Challenge Tour in an effort to regain some focus and confidence. It would appear that Mark will adopt the same strategy again in 2015 after failing to secure a tour card again.

Future Prospects – 

Mark starts 2015 with strong hopes of a return to where his ability should take him. A new sponsorship and management deal, and some life changes, together with some renewed application and focus, seem to have given a little momentum. Early signs are promising if not yet earth shattering. Needs to re discover the self belief he had installed into him previously.

 

Ian “Diamond” White

Ranking after 2011/12 Worlds – 54

Ian White  Diamond Shirt

Current Ranking – 16

Ian ranking was the lowest of our class at the 2 year point. However he had started a little later than most and had come on strong toward the end of his second season. A place in the grand slam and his first world championship had ensured that Whitey would start 2012 in a far better position than had been the case twelve months previously.

Within 3 months of the season re start Ian had picked up two semi finals and several other good Pro Tour placings. I addition his 9 dart finish during the Benidorm event had added both cash and confidence. Over the next 6 months he accumulated ranking points like sweets and got over the first round TV hurdle in The Matchplay. he added a European Tour final and another 9 darter for good measure, all before the end of September. Another two Pro Tour finals were added as were last sixteen places in the European Championships and the World Grand Prix along with the Champions League of Darts in October. Diamond completed the year by adding The Players Championship Finals to the list of majors and another solid appearance at the 2012/3 Worlds.

If anything Ian next twelve months were even stronger, proving to be the only member of the 2010 intake who could sustain a top end challenge and not struggle under the expectation. His superb end to 2012 on the floor meant that a consistent showing in Pro Tour & Euro Tour events was enough gain Ian qualification for The Matchplay & World Grand Prix again to consolidate a superb 12 months. A huge hurdle was crossed in September when after a few finals, and other near misses, Ian claimed a Pro Tour event in Barnsley. This long-awaited win opened the floodgates and led to Ian winning another floor event, before the end of the season, and claimed a quarter-final place in The Players Championships in early December. This superb run has seen “Diamond White” climb from the verges of the top 32 into the top twenty players in the world within a year. There was more to come yet! Strong victories over Kyle anderson, Kim Huybrechts and Richie Burnett ( especially sweet) mean that Diamond had reached the Quarter-Finals of The World Championships. A dramatic final set defeat at the hands of Simon Whitlock ended the campaign for that year with Ian scheduled as a top 16 player!

2014 can be seen as either a continuation of what had been started the previous year or a consolidation year. Progress was made at the UK Open with his quarter-final appearance making it 3 major quarters in a row. Two more Pro Tour wins and an immensely consistent Pro & Euro Tour effort ensured that Whitey stayed firmly in the top 16 in the order of merit. His World Championships were ended in the last 32 by a resurgent Kim Huybrechts who, despite being 4 places lower in the rankings has been awarded a Premier League spot.

Future Prospects – 

Whitey’s performance and his recent Masters Series debut has ensured that the class of 2010 have been represented at all PDC events except the Premier League. He is currently ranked 13 in the world and, with the prize money and event increases, has the chance to achieve even more. He has shown a great ability to learn and improve, both his game and his strategy / event management. If this pattern continues there is no reason for Ian not to go higher. He has a stated ambition of being a World Champion and, as we have seen on the floor, once he starts winning events then he can be unstoppable. Three years ago, I mentioned to Ian that, due to his metronomic style and ability to learn and process, he could get to the very top of world darts. I added that it would be a methodical rise and an eventual outcome rather than a sudden burst. So far that prediction is looking eerily accurate.

What next for the “Class of 2010”?

The class of 2010 blazed a trail for unheralded but talented players to take a full tilt at the highest level of professional darts. Six guys with very little or no top flight experience took the plunge and the results have been played out before us. Between them they have reached every major event (even the Premier League may not be beyond them!) One or more have reached the top 16, top 32 or top 48 over the five-year period. The semi’s of TV events have been reached twice and the quarters on multiple occasions.

They have also illustrated the importance of solid and stable personal lives, genuine and financially stable management or sponsorships and the importance of timing decisions or thoughts such as giving up employment or believing you have made it.

For Ian White it may well be onward and upward, if he can adjust as well to this last step up as he has to all the others on the way.

For the others it seems that time out or a new approach are needed, perhaps slower burning beginnings and steadier climbs up the rankings, in the manner of Q  School graduate 2012 Q School graduate Andy Gilding may well be more realistic in the new PDC system. Messers Heydon, Hylton, Rand,  Farmer and Alcinas have all shown that they have the talent and ability to compete with the very best. Sadly they have also shown that more than that is required for a lasting career at the top of elite darts. Ian “Diamond” White has shown what can be achieved if all the elements are present.

Could it be that Ian’s experience of reaching the 1997 News of the World final, and the difficult times that followed, ensured that he would not miss a second shot at the top?

(Photo Credit : Lawrence Lustig, Tip Top Pics & PDC)

 

 

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