Sunday, September 20, 2020

Luke Humphries: Luke’s story

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Tom Beresford
Sports journalist. Non-League football reporter. YouTuber, presenter, podcast host. Previously heard on FiveLive and Love Sport Radio. Managed by Epic Sports Management

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For Berkshire’s darting star, Luke Humphries, it’s been a ‘life-changing’ 18 months on the Professional Darts Corporation circuit.

Humphries’ story is fascinating, heartwarming and encouraging. Emerging from a good young player with bags of potential to a steady player on tour, and an entertaining stage player, who thrives off the atmosphere at big TV events, such as the Premier League and the biggest stage in World darts – Alexandra Palace.

Earlier on this week, I was fortunate enough to catch up with ‘Cool Hand Luke’ in an exclusive interview discussing ‘his story’.

“Things are going great at the moment darts wise”, said Humphries after a difficult start to 2019, both on and off the oche. “Since the whole release of me telling everyone about my mental health issues, my results and performances have been much better. In fact better than they’ve ever been on the Pro Tour. Before I had my break, I was well outside the places for the World Championship, and now in three months, I’ve pretty much guaranteed my return. So for me, that shows that my game and my mental attitude is on the up.”

Growing up

Humphries was born on 11-2-1995, and was born and raised in Newbury, Berkshire. In terms of his career, Luke first started playing darts in 2010 at the age of fifteen, and in 2012, Humphries decided to enter the world of professional darts.

Life in the PDC

Humphries firstly, started competing in the PDC Development Tour events at the age of 17, back in 2012, but five years down the line, something just clicked in his game as he picked up vital experience.

And in 2017, Humphries made a blistering start to the year, as he picked up five PDC Development Tour titles. As a result, Humphries topped the Development Tour order of merit, and with it, gained a two-year PDC tour card and sealed qualification for the 2018 William Hill World Darts Championship.

Talking about life on the Development Tour, and competing against some of the best young players on the planet, Humphries added: “I didn’t really plan on taking darts seriously at that age, but I knew that a lot of decent youth players were giving the PDC Development Tour a go. And, I think that I was a decent player for my age.

So, I thought that I’d give it a go to see where my game was at. My results weren’t that great, and to be honest, it was more of a reality check than anything else, but I did make a Quarter-Final in my first year, which was a good achievement considering the amount of talent that’s on show.”

After Humphries ‘breakthrough’ year in 2017, picking up five PDC Development Tour titles, Luke admitted: “It was a fantastic year for me. It feels like such a long time ago now, but I think the key to playing better prior to playing on the Pro Tour, was because I was much fresher, playing five weekends a year, and I was always eager to compete over those weekends and do well.

“Although I still am now, I’m happy that it’s my final year. I think it’s the best time for me to bow out on it, and I’ve had a great time on the Development Tour.”

In his PDC World Championship debut, Humphries took to the Alexandra Palace stage to take on Canada’s Jeff Smith. in terms of the result, it wasn’t quite what Humphries was aiming for, but in terms of performance, Humphries made quite an impression, but realised that the experience of the big stage would stand him in god stead moving forward in his progression.

Reflecting on his World Championship debut, Humphries was pleased with overall performance and tasting the Alexandra Palace experience for the first time.

“It was very overwhelming actually”, added Humphries. “I don’t know why, but I thought that it was going be easier to play on the stage than I first imagined.

“The different setting felt strange, and I just couldn’t get used to the throw in that match. It was an amazing feeling though, and the experience helped me en route to the Quarter-Finals just twelve months later.”

In 2018, Humphries stepped into the realms of the senior professional game, in his first year on the full PDC tour. But, as well as competing on the Pro Tour, Humphries experienced life on the European Tour, playing in front of thousands of darts-crazed European fans and of course, the continuation of the PDC Development Tour.

And, after making the switch from the Development Tour to the Pro Tour, Humphries admits that the transition most certainly wasn’t easy.

“It really wasn’t easy”, added Humphries. “It was so difficult to make the transition. I didn’t expect it to be simple, but I didn’t expect it to be so hard either. That’s my point on young players coming through the ranks.

“It’s ok cleaning up in youth tournaments, but trust me once you make the transition to the Pro Tour, it’s a whole new level you never knew existed. I’ve played some amazing games and lost.

“I’ve often thought, how have I lost playing like that? But, that’s how hard it is. You’ve got to be prepared to lose a lot, because whether you like it or not, it’s going to happen. And, that wasn’t something I was used to, playing on the Development Tour.”

European Tour

As Humphries faced the PDC schedule as a tour card holder for the first time, the Berkshire ace got off to a great start. In February, Humphries successfully came through the first four qualifiers for the PDC European Tour.

“I qualified for the first four Euro Tour events in 2018”, said Humphries. “That was a huge achievement, not everyone understands just how difficult they are to qualify for.

“Everyone wants to qualify so badly. They’re the money makers towards all the order of merit’s, but as you know, I just love playing on big stages in front of large crowds, so they’re amazing to be a part of, and I love qualifying for them.”

In the midst of that excellent qualification run, Humphries reached the last 32 in just his second Pro Tour event. The experience of playing in front of large German crowds really helped Humphries in his progression, and the experience and confidence that he gained, really gave Humphries a lot of confidence moving into the latter end of 2018.

After his five PDC Development Tour wins in his debut campaign, Humphries picked up another three titles in 2018 as he topped the order of merit for a second consecutive year.

In terms of gaining experience on the Pro Tour, and reaching several board finals in the Players championship series, Humphries reached the Semi-Finals at Players Championship 22 in Barnsley, which was the final Pro Tour event of the year.

World Championship run

After two successful years on the PDC circuit, and with eight Development Tour titles to his name, Humphries gained bundles of confidence and really showed positive signs in terms of his progression and development.

In December 2018, Humphries made his second appearance at the William Hill World Darts Championship. After a steady year on the Pro Tour and the Development Tour, Humphries came across as a lot more confident than 12 months previously as the World Championship came around again.

In the first round, Luke produced an impressive display to see off Adam Hunt in straight sets (3-0) with an average of 97.58 to advance to the second round.

After his opening round win over Adam Hunt, Humphries stated his intent from the get-go, and insisted: “I’m here to win the World Championship.”

Reminiscing on the opening round win over Hunt, in which Humphries lost the opening leg, before reeling off nine legs on-the-spin to secure a convincing 3-0 victory, Humphries added: “I was absolutely thrilled. There’s no better feeling that winning your first game at the World Championship. I was very pleased with my performance.”

In round two, the standard in terms of calibre of the opposition moved up a gear as Humphries was faced with a tricky tie against former World Champion Stephen Bunting. Much like his opening round win over Adam Hunt, it was another solid display from ‘Cool Hand Luke’ as he produced a 95.56 average in an assured 3-1 win over Bunting to advance to the third round at Alexandra Palace as the Berkshire ace entered uncharted territory.

“In the first two sets, I produced some of the best darts that I threw over the entirety of the event”, said Humphries. “I was very comfortable throughout the whole game, really. Stephen didn’t play his best, but he fought back well after going 2-0 behind, and I expected it as he’s a fighter and when on form, he’s such a tough player to play against.”

In the third round, Humphries took on back-to-back World Youth Champion Dimitri van den Bergh. The Belgian is certainly a name that Humphries know plenty about, the pair have met several times on the Development Tour, and the Berkshire ace used that experience and confidence from his previous performances to run out an emphatic 4-1 winner to advance to the last 16 at Alexandra Palace.

“Myself and Dimitri had played each other six times previously, so it was someone that I was definitely used to playing against”, said Humphries. “Unfortunately for me, I picked up a niggle in my elbow that day which made me struggle through that particular game.

“I somehow, managed to come through it unscathed. So, I was definitely excited about the prospect of a last 16 tie in my second World Championship.”

In the last 16, Humphries was faced with his toughest test yet, as he faced reigning World Champion Rob Cross. It was a match that had everything – moments of drama, high-quality and overall, a spine-tingling atmosphere.

Cross was put under pressure from the get-go as Humphries soon found his range in the scoring stakes, and Humphries went on to secure a ‘life-changing’ 4-1 win over the reigning World Champ.

“It was a game of two halves, really”, said Humphries after a ‘life-changing’ victory over the reigning World Champion. “I started off pretty well, missing just a few doubles, to be honest.

“In the second half of the game, Rob missed a few doubles, and I converted my chances that he gave me. At 2-2, I went off at the break , and I felt that my heart had stopped beating.I couldn’t feel my heart pumping like it was five minutes previously when I was up on the stage.

“It scared me, as I thought something bad was going to happen. It took great courage to walk back up there after that. But, it changed my life winning that game.”

In the Quarter-Finals, Humphries produced a solid display, but he ran into a very much in-form Michael Smith, who ran out a 5-1 winner with an average of more than 103.

After a life-changing couple of weeks, Humphries picked up £50,000 and showed the World what a player he is, and just what he can do on the big stage.

Reflecting on a life-changing couple of weeks, Humphries admitted that things took a while to ‘sink in’.

“I couldn’t of dreamt it better put it that way”, said Humphries. “I think that it was a fairytale couple of weeks for someone like me in my first professional year. And, to share that moment with all the people closest to me was even more amazing.

“I think it took a long time to really sink in just how well I’d done, in such a short space of time.”

Premier League debut

Following that sensational run, Humphries was picked for the 2019 Unibet Premier League on Night Four in Exeter, following Gary Anderson’s withdrawal from the event.

After the Gary Anderson’s withdrawal from the Premier League due to injury, Humphries admits that when he got the call regarding his inclusion, he thought that it was a ‘wind-up’.

“I thought it was a joke at first, to be honest. But, my manager reassured me that it was true. I was ecstatic to be honest, to have the privilege to play in the Premier League, is just unbelievable. And next year, if they carry on with the contenders idea, then I really hope that I get picked again, so I can show that this year wasn’t a one-off, and that I can push the best players in the world.”

On his Premier League debut, Humphries stepped up to the ache in a comfortable fashion, and looked so at home, and the Berkshire star almost became the first contender to register a victory as the shares were spoiled in Exeter 6-6. Humphries almost ended the match in sensational style as he narrowly missed D14 for a roof-raising 148 checkout in the final leg, before Price secured a point.

“Gerwyn Price was in the form of his life winning back-to-back Players Championship event’s the weekend prior, so I knew it was going to be a tough game.

“I started off sluggishly, but I really took the game to him”, said Humphries. “My finishing under pressure was brilliant in that game. And like you say the 148 was very close, it would’ve been a dream for that to have gone in. But, I was very pleased with 101 average and a draw in my debut.”

Mental health battle

As the 2019 season got under way, Humphries found it difficult to settle into life on the PDC Pro Tour, and just months later, to his own admission, Humphries revealed that he’s been suffering from anxiety, and mental health battles.

Speaking openly about his mental health ‘struggle’, Humphries admitted: “I feel much better in myself since I took the decision to tell everyone about my condition. Anxiety is something as you know, that you’ve got to learn to deal with. It’ll never go away, unfortunately. I’ve learnt ways of controlling it the best I can, but I’ve received a lot of support within the darting industry, and it’s definitely helped in terms of making me feeling better.”

Photography credit: Lawrence Lustig / PDC
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