Rob Cross caught my attention, as a player, a couple of years ago. During the 2016 UK Open lot of fuss was made of Barry Lynn, however it was Cross’s talent and attitude that struck me as worth watching. His remarkable subsequent progress could prove an example for others and a validation of the PDC in their efforts to build a sustainable career path for new players.
In its early years the PDC’s main, non TV, tour was quite a slow-moving and shy animal. In its original form any player could register with the PDPA and then pay to enter these events. Many hoped to gain enough points/pounds to qualify for the bigger events and kick-start a professional career. Others simply played for the challenge, and pleasure, of playing with the very best.
A Truly Professional Game?
In 2010/11 it was decided to re structure the system and build a structure, similar to that used in golf and tennis, that offered a pathway for players with talent to progress through. The rival organisation’s route, despite its flaws, can also provide players with a path. But progress has been slow, many of the same players dominated for long periods and only those who swapped from the top of the BDO system seemed to become established within the PDC. This is not to say that many other players, from various darting backgrounds, did not perform superbly for a limited period or that a small number did not break into the top rank after an extended period of trying. Justin Pipe & Peter Wright demonstrated what could be achieved.
Since 2011 the elements of the PDC Tour have grown into a cohesive professional structure that can guide players from their youth performances ( Development Tour) through to a 2nd level tour (Challenge Tour) tour and, via the Qualifying School, then the truly professional ranks of the Pro Tour, European Tour and Majors. This system offers a set of building blocks toward a top flight career. The costs are substantially less than the Pro Tour, the prize money, and other incentives, have been set at levels which allow any determined player to be able to take part. The facilities, venues and atmosphere are virtually identical to the highest level events (non TV) and thus genuine acclimatisation and development is both possible and rewarded. But only when a genuinely new player has demonstrated that this path and structure is viable, for high level and long-term success, can it be classed as a true pathway to professionalism.
Rob Cross may be a very important player in the progress of PDC darts. He has become the first player to take advantage of all the adult opportunities offered by the new system, winning at every level, and move to the brink of top flight success. Along the way he has illustrated some of the other elements available to the modern player and how to gain the maximum from them.
Path to Success
Rob broke through by winning qualification to the UK Open in 2016. The qualifying events are completely amateur in nature, taking place in Riley’s clubs across the UK, but are overseen by the PDC and abide by their basic framework.. They immensely difficult to win and often have a very strong field of ex Pro Tour players, strong BDO players and other very experienced local performers. The vast majority of qualifying players do not progress, past the their first couple of games, in the TV event. Rob Cross however overcame serious opposition from Pro Tour players, including former Premier League players, and played matches of up to 17 legs, to reach the last 32. He then found himself up against MIcheal Van Gerwen. Despite the defeat (5-9) he stood up to a complete barrage of other world darts, including a 9 dart leg and a 170 finish, from MVG. He played his own game and performed superbly well. It could be argued that the relaxation of playing a lesser known player, combined with Rob’s strong performance led to MVG producing what he did.
Next stop was the PDC Challenge Tour. Carrying his momentum from the UK Open, and obvious good form, he reached a final immediately and continued in such fashion for the entire season. His three tour victories ensured that he topped the Challenge Tour Order of Merit and gained an automatic tour card for 2017. In doing so Cross proved that he could win at the next available level of PDC competition, avoided having to attend Q School in January 2017 and could look forward to the 2017 Professional UK Open Qualifiers.
Career Planning and Progression.
In the Autumn of 2016 Cross made another excellent decision, one that may have been at least partly down to the new PDC system. John Archer, a former PDC player, had moved into management and promotion of players. John is a very knowledgable and straight forward individual who provides good support to his players. His offer to support Rob and the acceptance of that decision seem to have provided the final piece in the jigsaw for Rob’s success. Whether this was due to financial calculations or for support and assistance, with his future career, it was a very smart move. Players such as Justin Pipe have made huge progress after easing the burden on themselves as early career professionals. For Cross and Navada to join hands at this stage was a very astute step.
Professional UK Open Qualifiers.
It appears that considerable thought was given to Rob’s debut season on the Pro Tour. In the early stages he took part in the UK Open qualifiers, performing superbly. Very few players, without considerable high level experience, collect £’s in every one of their first six of these events and in reaching a semi final more great experience was gained. Thus a first TV major as a professional qualifier was secured. No European tour qualifiers were undertaken at this point. Again choosing from the available experiences and opportunities in a way which would have been scarcely possible a couple of years ago.
Players Championships & UK Open 2017
Next would come another leap in progression. Rob’s Players Championship (PC) debut, February 2017, was steady, these events are seeded, different in atmosphere and tougher in terms of ability. He then returned to the UK Open, this time as a top ranked professional qualifier, and managed to improve on his 2016 performance reaching last 16 stage. This was a more significant step than it may appear. When returning to the scene of previous success players are no longer surprise packages and also gain more attention. The pressures are different and not easy to adjust to.
Returning to the PC events, the following weekend, Cross produced a superb performance to triumph in only his third top tier event. Along the way Rob defeated former champions, new generation champions and legends of the game, including Raymond Van Barneveld in the qtrs finals. He has since added another Players Championship victory to his total and many other later stage efforts. In a debut year this is simply outstanding.
During the weekend of his remarkable PC win Rob also gained his first experience of the Euro Tour qualifiers. After being unsuccessful at the first attempt he managed to qualify for the German Darts Open and has since qualified for four more events, with more qualifiers to come.
These events operate on a hybrid of UK Open and Players Championship formulae. Upon qualification you are placed into a seeded draw featuring the top ranked and form players. But games are played singly on stage over a three-day period. It appears that the combination worked very well. Rob has reached the Qtr Finals of three out of four events, gained stage wins over players such as Whitlock and Chisnall whilst adding more ranking £’s toward this seasons major events. This may well be the best consistent performance of any qualifier for this tour. Experience and success here is possibly the most beneficial for any new player. For many years experience of stage games, large audiences and single game high pressure atmosphere was difficult to come by. Qualifying players were at a huge disadvantage, and often did not play to their fullest potential, as a result. This has been steadily changing since the introduction and expansion of this very successful branch of the PDC structure.
Majors, Worlds and Rankings.
Following this remarkable start to his career, I can find no other who will have achieved so much from a standing start, Cross has qualified for every available event for the rest of 2017. This will include debuts at: The World Matchplay, The World Grand Prix, The European Championships, The Grand Slam, Players Championship Finals and The World Professional Championships. Only invitational events will be missing from his list from now to the end of the year, even here however the PDC have been known to vary this if it can be justified?
Looking at previous debut, and early career, players it is likely that those in similar formats to those regularly played will offer the best chance. Players Championship Finals and the European Championships would seem likely opportunities for Rob to do well. Yet we would be foolish to rule out another leap in achievement. The Grand Prix and then The World Champs offer great reward for fewer wins.
The rankings system will be very important to Rob. The higher he can climb, on all tables, the easier it will be to sustain the success he is achieving. Seedings in certain events and guarantees of tour card retention and a certain income relieve many pressures. His current rank of 52 is superb in such a short time but will be eclipsed at the end of this season.
Based on a simply maintaining his current standard Rob is a certainty for the top 32. The top 20 is likely and, with a strong run or two in a major event, especially the World Champs, he could even break into the top 16. For any PDC debutant these are superb achievements. For a player without significant previous experience they are outstanding and possibly even unique.
In addition to his own remarkable success Cross has demonstrated that the new structure of the PDC, together with smart career planning and a professional attitude, can provide a perfect path to the very top of the game. No need to slog around the BDO for years on end, no need to join the tour and spend years and £000’s learning to adapt to all the different formats, atmosphere, stages, formats etc. Make no mistake,it still takes a player of immense talent and a superb attitude to pull this off, but it has been shown to be possible!
All dart players, and fans. should keep and eye on Mr Rob Cross. and wish him well in progressing, and sustaining, a potentially ground breaking career in what is fast becoming a truly professional game!