Andy Relf’s Darting Diary………inside the PDC Tour
The PDC actually came to my home county of Sussex in the past month – what a result… no staying away, no travelling, aahh bliss! Well for one week anyway!
First on the calendar was the Whyte & Mackay Premier League at the Brighton Centre. There was myself and 11 others spread out on a table at the back of the hall, ready to be entertained by the PDC elite.
As a regular to many premiership matches at Stamford Bridge to watch the mighty Chelsea, I can only liken the audience to that of a football crowd. The singing and chanting is on the whole good natured, although some calling when the players are going for a crucial shot in my view is disrespectful. At the end of the day, the guys are there trying to earn their living, and to win a title.
The matches were good, Mr Taylor once again winning to keep his lead. I managed to get myself on Sky TV. Not for any darting prowess, purely by being sat at the front of our table when a cameraman decided to stop. Cue a barrage of texts from various ‘friends’, telling me to get my ugly mug off the telly as they were trying to watch the darts. I knew I’d be famous one day… well there is another 5 seconds of fame for me!
Next evening, I was playing in a memorial competition for Rob Cannings, a young lad who was playing in the same team as me a few years ago, when sadly he died in a car accident.
Around 60 entrants were at the venue, consisting of players from the Heathfield League, who are the organisers, and many friends and relatives of Rob. It is a great night, and very close quarters with so many people crammed into a small venue.
My first match is against a young lad of about 10 years old, and as you can imagine the room is baying for me to fail. I haven’t been this nervous for ages! I’m up to throw first, what’s the worst I can do… I hit a 180! That’s raised my popularity, I end up requiring 80 to finish, the crowd are by now giving the ‘ Relfy’s sweating, he can’t finish’ a bit of an airing. I step up and hit a big fat 5… that wasn’t planned, I deliberated for a few seconds while the masses wiped away their tears of laughter, then cracked in a 25 followed by a plum centre Bullseye. Sorry people, but it had to be done. Imagine if that had missed!
I went on to win the event, and had a great night meeting up with some familiar old faces.
Then comes the weekend, and it is a short journey to the K2 Centre in Crawley, for the PDC Players Championship, and the UK Open qualifier.
My opponent on the Saturday is Lee Williams, whatever happened to me today, I can’t put my finger on, but I lost 6 – 1, and just couldn’t get going. So it was home to chill out and prepare for the Sunday competition.
I was against an Irishman, Jim McKevitt in a preliminary round today. What a difference a day makes, I could not miss, I had a 100% check out record, and played an awesome match winning 6 – 0. I was really pleased with that performance, I just hoped that it would carry on in the first round proper as my opponent was Mark Walsh.
I’d never played Mark before, but he is renowned for his outstanding performances in the floor tournaments. I needed to be on top of my game.
The match was excellent, he surged ahead, and I brought it back to level at three all. I had the chance to go ahead in the seventh leg, but wired my double. Mark went on to win the match from there, but I was happy that I’d put in a couple of games that I was proud of. To top it off, my dad had come to watch me play in the PDC for the first time, so I’m glad I didn’t let myself down.
In the week that followed, I arranged with my equipment sponsor, Red Dragon Darts, to go to their works in Bridgend with a view to making me a set of bespoke darts to my design.
As an aspiring young dart player, doing wonders at the time for the sales of Polyfilla, (a product that my dad used regularly to patch up the walls as I started honing my aim) I remember watching my hero Eric Bristow, and all I ever wanted was a set of his darts. Imagine my disappointment when I finally got a set, that they didn’t turn me into an overnight superstar!
We’ve all been there, wanting to find the optimum dart to suit our throw, but something is never quite right. Therefore the delight of signing a product sponsorship deal with Red Dragon Darts meant that my dream of having my own design of dart manufactured was suddenly a reality.
I for one have always had an idea of what would make the perfect dart for me… unfortunately laser guidance for darts is a long way off yet, so a simpler design was decided upon.
Before making my appointment to visit the Red Dragon works, I put together an information sheet which detailed everything that I thought their engineer – Lee, might need to know about my existing darts and indeed the way that I grip and ultimately throw my darts. The sheet included photographs, the weight, and every dimension that I could give, hoping that Lee would be able to come up with a suitable design.
When the day came for my visit to Red Dragon, I must confess I was both excited, and at the same time apprehensive about what was going to happen. The last thing I wanted was to have my darts made to my specification, then find that when I throw them, I have reverted back to the Polyfilla days!
I met with Lee, and also with Marketing Manager Simon Hall when I arrived at the works, and we had a chat about possible designs, discussed grip patterns, and also the fact that I wanted a scallop in the middle of the barrel, so that whenever I pick up my darts, they will always be gripped in the same place.
A huge array of different grips were presented to me, and I particularly liked a micro groove arrangement within the scallop, very grippy, but not too aggressive. I also wanted some rings on the nose of the dart, and points with grip on them also.
Next step was for Lee to watch me throw some darts at their board that they have set up in the workshop. Simon Hall, the Red Dragon Marketing Manager, then challenged me to a few legs of 301, while Lee entered all the data into his CNC machine and set about producing the first set of darts for me to try. Simon wanted me to mention that he hit his fifth ever 180 whilst we were playing, but I couldn’t do that here!
After around 30 minutes I was presented with a set of my own design of darts. Now for the hard bit, what would they throw like? They felt very different to my current darts, but the thing that was noticeable straight away, was how straight that they flew. More like a missile than any other dart, there was no movement through the air, just a perfectly straight dart. This felt slightly odd, but in many ways it felt ‘right’.
When I arrived home, I practiced for a few days with the new darts and got better and better with them. I had to change my throw slightly, but 180’s were coming thick and fast, and I was now finding that my new throwing style meant that less effort was required.
Putting them to the test in PDC competition would be my first real trial, so the Bobby Bourne Championship at Barnsley was the chosen event.
I practiced well, and a lot of other players took the opportunity of having a throw with my new darts. Many commented on how straight that they flew.
My first round was against Steve Grubb, which I went on to win 6 – 5 in a close fought match where I was at one point, 5 – 1 down. Next up was Tony Eccles, and I managed to beat him 6 – 3, my confidence was high, and this was my best performance since joining the PDC. I was then to play Colin Osborne in the board final. The match was superb, and at four legs all, I had a shot at 36 to sneak ahead, and just wired it. Colin stepped in and took the leg, and followed up by taking the next, and ultimately the match.
On the Sunday I drew Chris Mason. He played very well, and was consistent; I had no answer to his game and lost 6 nil.
In no way was I disappointed though. I had tried out my new darts, and they had performed superbly. I think the elation of doing well the previous day, got to me a bit, and now I have to work on becoming even more consistent myself.