Former Players Champion and current darts pundit Paul Nicholson picks out five things we learned from the 2023 Cazoo UK Open...
1. Age is no barrier
The fact that TWO 16-year old schoolboys played in the UK Open is fantastic enough. The fact that they both won multiple games and worried established talent speaks volumes in many ways.
Not only natural talent being harnessed at a bullet train rate, but obviously the route to success for these kids has been correct.
Take the second game that Luke Littler played against Rusty-Jake Rodriguez. This was a clash of two JDC world champions, six years apart.
We have waxed lyrical about how Youth champions have kicked on since winning that title, but now the juniors are getting in on the act even earlier.
Thomas Banks beat Graham Hall and Conor Heneghan, and eventually lost to Gerwyn Price.
Just think back to what you did as a dart player or fan as a 16-year old, and tell me that the system isn’t working.
On the flip-side of that argument, you have people well over the age of 50 still contending with a never say die attitude.
I don’t even need to mention that the champion is over 50, but look at Richie Burnett with all of his ups and downs, ins and outs.
And I am sure Gary Anderson would love me for putting him in this bracket but he is 52 now, and at times he did look pretty darn good, so watch out world, The Flying Scotsman might not be done yet.
Overall, age is but a number, and we should embrace the fact that the spread of the ages in the tournament was 42 years. In which other sports do you see that? Not many.
2. Winning isn’t always about having the best averages every round
I saw a brilliant tweet from Wayne Mardle the day after the event. It talked about how you do not have to be brilliant every round, or even every leg to win. You just have to be brilliant in the right moments. Never a truer word spoken.
Remember last year when Danny Noppert averaged 84 in the final? People keep bringing it up, but why? Let us focus on how amazing he was in the last leg when he needed to be, and that’s exactly what happened when we had another 11-10 scoreline in the championship game in 2023.
Let us all put something into perspective. Where was the winner in the averages list when the last dart was planted? 43rd. Where was the runner-up in that list? 14th. What does that mean? NOTHING.
You have to dig so much deeper to find out why someone got to a final and why they won. Key moments are what it is all about, and remember that each and every game is different and against a different player.
Darts events are not perfect experiments and the sooner that people realise that, the sooner they will forget that averages matter.
Richie Burnett made the quarter-final of a TV event for the first time in nine years averaging 86.07 over five matches. Point proven.
3. Get used to first-time TV title winners
If Michael van Gerwen didn’t win all of the big TV titles last year, we may be talking about this subject even more.
We had a new Masters champion in each of the last three years, new World Cup champions in 2022 as well as a new Grand Slam champion, new World Champion and a new European Champion.
Adding to that list in recent times shouldn’t be a surprise, but for someone to do it from outside the top 32 is probably the evident shock.
Some people have given their opinion that the standard of play hasn’t risen in recent years, and I do not believe that. What I believe in even more is that more players are of a better standard than ever, hence why we are seeing a free for all on the big stages now.
This will be very frustrating for the likes of Terry Jenkins to see, and for existing big hitters who haven’t broken their duck yet, but it should be motivational to see fresh fingerprints on silverware. It shows that the possibilities are there.
Get used to lots of names on trophies from now on and that list of players with "major winner" next to them is going to spread like wildfire.
Just one last thing, just because you win a big title like this doesn’t make you a shoe-in for Premier League berths. Andrew Gilding already knows that, and so do Noppie and Ross Smith.
4. Streaming all boards is very watchable
Who didn’t like seeing Kim Huybrechts and Arron Monk revealing their frustration by apparently nutting the dartboard? I am just grateful that we didn’t have this streaming capability around when I was on the outer boards!
All jokes aside, it was refreshing and it gave everyone the chance to both play in front of a watching audience, and it gave fans an opportunity to see their favourites in a mad hatter atmosphere that only showed snippets in previous years.
The amount of hard work that went into putting this together was brilliant by all at Loop Production, and they can be very sure they will have to do it again next year as all of the people I have spoken to have said they want to see more.
By more, I don't just mean the next UK Open too, I mean people want to see this at Players Championship events, the Challenge Tour and even the Development Tour.
Money talks though, and if it is viable, do not be shocked to see it again at the very least in 12 months' time.
People love access to everything, and with a behind the scenes documentary of the Premier League available too now, I think seeing more of what has not been seen previously is what darts fans are crying out for.
5. Hard Work Pays Off
It is like all-time Crossfit champion Mat Fraser says, “Hard work pays off.” Just ask Andrew Gilding.
When it comes to this, you have to ask yourself two very honest questions. Are you satisfied with your results? Are you putting in enough effort?
Andrew asked himself these questions and it is HIS decision to work harder that has has reaped rewards over the last year.
Do not think that winning a title is a fluke for Gilding. He made three finals last season alone and he produced some daily performances that made people take notice.
The fact that some pundits within the game actually thought this was possible speaks volumes.
We could all learn a thing or two from Goldfinger. He not only decided to change his work ethic, but he now does a little bit of fitness work, mental training and obviously puts in the time on the board, so if you are reading this and looking to see why he won the UK Open, it is those three departments that could hold the key to your own success.
You have to be true to yourself and in Andrews own words, you have to stop being lazy. Hard work does indeed pay off.