Are we witnessing a changing of the guard in darts?
Luke Humphries’ triumph over Gerwyn Price in the World Grand Prix appeared more significant than simply being the first major win for ‘Cool Hand’. Price, the former World Champion and World Number One, started a strong favourite and despite taking the first set was resoundingly beaten. Not only did Humphries defeat his more experienced and decorated opponent in the final, he usurped him in the world rankings as the new number four and will no doubt be eyeing up Peter Wright in third, who has large chunks of ranking money to drop off in the coming months.
It didn’t seem so long ago that we were talking about a ‘Big Three’ in darts in Price, Wright and van Gerwen. Michael Smith threatened to, then gate crashed that party at the beginning of this year to become World Number One at the same time as lifting his first PDC World Championship. With Price down to number five and Wright’s place at the very top table looking vulnerable, it could be that after the conclusion of this season at Alexandra Palace, both will be outside of automatic qualification for the Premier League. Surely, they would have enough in the bank with the PDC to be included anyway, but it is a severe shifting of the optics of the game’s elite, and one which feels like it’s happened in the blink of an eye. Humphries, of course, beat Wright on his way to the title in Leicester too.
When Price won his first major, Humphries was in his debut year on the Tour. When van Gerwen won his last World Championship, he was the newly crowned World Youth Champion. When Price reached the top of the world rankings, he was still more than a year away from even winning his first Pro Tour event, which happened at the beginning of 2022. Since then, he has been on a run seeing him accumulate enough ranking points to be where he is today despite, until last week, being considered an underperformer in the TV tournaments when the most ranking money is at stake. This is because, on the floor and the European Tour stages, he has been in a different league. His record in those events has been such that nobody in the darts fraternity will harbour thoughts that his Grand Prix win might be a flash in the pan – the question is not whether he will win another major, but how many more he will win. Of the last twelve stage events he has played, he has made at least the semi-final of nine of them. On the Euro Tour he has won 57 out of 72 matches in the last two years and 30 from 39 in 2023. He has been extraordinarily consistent.
What is more encouraging for Humphries and more worrying for his rivals, is that whilst he has had some handy runs in recent TV events (his Grand Prix win, a semi-final at the Matchplay and another at the World Series of Darts Finals), his performances have not really showcased his A-game. If his Euro Tour exploits have been characterised by explosive brilliance, his TV results have been a demonstration of his grit. By his own admission he hadn’t played well up to the final at the Morningside Arena. He dug out a win against Peter Wright, then came up against Price playing his best darts of the tournament, and still found enough to see him off.
Humphries’ averages also suggest an ascent that if we see the continuation of, will be difficult to contain. In the season when Gerwyn Price became World Number One, he averaged 98.47 to Humphries’ 97.99 in 2023. Humphries still has the business end of the season to come and now he has broken his TV duck, many will expect that number to rise rather than fall. Bookmakers currently have him a 9/1 shot to end the season by winning his first World Championship in January 2024 – long odds for a man who has now found his feet in the highest profile arenas and outside of those, has looked the most reliable winner for twelve months now.
Darts is in its most exciting place ever, with young talents like Josh Rock, Gian van Veen and Luke Littler also making waves with monster averages left, right and centre. Like Humphries, they’ve been through parts of the same PDC system. One of them followed in Humphries’ footsteps in winning the World Youth title in 2022 and the other two contest the final of the 2023 version later this year. Michael Smith, another former World Youth Champion, has come of age and sits at the summit of the sport with Humphries making strides behind him.
Are we on the cusp of a new order in darts?