With the start of the 2021 PDC ProTour season only a few days away, SAM CARTER picks out 10 players starting the campaign with a new tour card to watch out for…
Geert De Vos
It seems surprising to me that this is the first time Geert De Vos has a PDC tour card. Foxy is a winner of multiple tournaments across Europe, including the BDO World Trophy in 2015.
The 39-year-old is now part of only a handful of Belgians on the ProTour. Belgium’s most famous throwers, former Premier League player Kim Huybrechts and current World Matchplay champion Dimitri Van Den Bergh, are doing a great job of flying the flag for their homeland, along with young Mike De Decker looking good to break into the top 64, Belgian darts is on the up.
De Vos was in Stage 1A of European Q-School and, despite his averages being not much to write home about, he made the final game on two of the three days to safely get through to the Final Stage.
Nobody got to within a deciding leg of the Belgian on the first day of the Final Stage, as he roared through the field and became the first man to secure a tour card, beating namesake Geert Nentjes 6-4 in the final.
I believe De Vos will fear no one. He is capable of big things, as we’ve seen with a nine darter in the Danish Open and that 113.86 average in the 2015 Grand Slam.
The Main Man appeared in Milton Keynes for his fourth attempt at Q-School, with his previous best run being a last 32 back in 2018.
A regular in Development Tour and Challenge Tour events, Main scraped through Stage 1A to make the second phase, where he won his first six games, five of them 6-4, before falling short 6-1 against Kirk Shepherd.
Getting to the final on day one meant that the lion’s share of work was done, but he backed that up with a last 32 and a quarter-final, resulting in him not needing to turn up for the fourth day.
The 24-year-old still finished top of the UK Q-School Order of Merit, and will go into two ProTour seasons knowing that winning one single match in a Players Championship will equal his highest ever PDC pay cheque of £500. Two wins will double it and, judging by his Q-School campaign, there’s no reason whatsoever he can’t achieve that and so much more.
The 2015 BDO/WDF/Lakeside World Champion (I’m not going to be political and commit to a prefix) has been playing darts for a long time, but it’s fair to say he’s been a pretty late bloomer.
Following his 2015 success at Lakeside, Scotty Dog was still playing to a good standard without backing it up with TV titles, reaching Finder Masters and World Masters semi-finals several times and performing pretty well in the Grand Slam on four occasions, never going winless in the group stage, but never progressing either.
Mitchell is another player that is more than capable on his day of progressing deep in tournaments. He won’t fear players and also has vital ProTour experience from last year, appearing in the majority of the Players Championships on offer as a result of his performances in the Challenge Tour.
Mitchell will surely be expecting to hear Baha Men – Who Let The Dogs Out coming out of the Alexandra Palace speakers this coming December, at the very least.
Stretch is a new tour card holder for the 2021 season, however he didn’t have to go to Q-School to get his tour card. Evans got his through arguably the most cut-throat tour there is in darts: the Challenge Tour.
You’ve got to be consistently good over several different weekends, in different buildings, against a lot of different players. The 2020 Challenge Tour was only held over two weekends, due to the pandemic, and Evans managed to win two of the six tournaments on offer during the final weekend, which was enough to, not only secure a tour card, but gain a spot in the World Championship, at Alexandra Palace.
It would be his second appearance in a World Championship inside a year, having reached the quarter-finals on debut in the BDO tournament. Evans took Ross Smith to deciding legs in two sets, but ultimately ran out a 3-0 loser. I’m pretty sure that it won’t be the 31-year old’s last appearance on the Ally Pally stage. He has still got plenty of time to kick on and progress his fledgling career.
What a story! Danny Baggish is the third tour card holder to come from the United States, but the first one to earn it through Q-School, and he was a very popular winner with our podcast co-hosts.
In his PDC World Championship debut he narrowly defeated Andy Boulton in round one, before falling to Nathan Aspinall and then this past December he went one step further.
The Gambler defeated one of the form players of 2020, Damon Heta, in a deciding leg, before knocking out one of the greats of the game, in Adrian Lewis, in convincing fashion.
After that win, Baggish captured the hearts of the darts world by dedicating his success to his brother Harrison, who had sadly suffered a stroke back in America. Baggish then pushed Glen Durrant close in the third round and vowed to be at Q-School this year.
His Q-School campaign showed how well he can cope with pressure. He needed a run on the last day of Stage 1B and he got it. He needed a big run on the last day of the Final Stage and he got it. He is a welcome addition to the ProTour and it will be great to see him back on the big stage, with him being a shoe-in for the USA World Cup team later in 2021.
A regular qualifier for the PDC World Championship, as well as a part of Russia’s PDC World Cup team, the Viking has appeared in several ProTour events and just seems like the sort of character who would be good to go and have a pint with!
During lockdown he was performing consistently well on the virtual Modus Icons of Darts League, and I believe that match sharpness, coupled with plenty of time to prepare to Q-School, meant Koltsov was one of those heavily fancied for a tour card.
He got through Stage 1A at European Q-School without many issues and racked up plenty of points in the Final Stage. Koltsov was looking good to win his tour card on the last day via the Order of Merit, but won the entire event regardless.
I’m confident Koltsov, a former winner on the Challenge Tour, can combine his big stage experience with his several deep runs in several floor tournaments to make a name for himself in the PDC ranks. As the first player to win a tour card at Q-School from Russia, it may be possible for him to inspire a new wave of dart-playing Russians too.
A former winner of the very coveted Torremolinos Open, Jones played on the Development Tour for some years and made the final on more than one occasion, but this was only his third crack at Q-School.
Jones did enough in Stage 1B to gain access to the Final Stage. A first-round exit was followed by a last 16 run in the first two days, but the 27-year-old then went all the way on day three, beating Australian Gordon Mathers in a deciding leg in the final.
Jones, who is a scaffolder by trade, may have a few decisions to make about whether he wants to pursue darts full time.
One thing he can take comfort in though is, while Brazil have the football players, New Zealand have the rugby players and China have the table tennis players at a premium, Stoke-on-Trent is the place you want to be from if you are a darts player. Phil Taylor, Adrian Lewis, Ted Hankey, Andy Hamilton, Ian White are all among the Potteries’ main men to toe the oche. Need I say more?
If ever was there a man who was an expert in Q-School, it’s Kirk Shepherd. The former PDC World Championship finalist will be very keen to break his current cycle of getting on the ProTour and then dropping off it after two years.
The Englishman, a runner-up at Alexandra Palace 13 years ago at the tender age of 21, will not want to be back in this scenario in January 2023, needing to go back to Q-School.
Shepherd seems more motivated than he has been before. He won back his tour card in style, his status as a player who had lost his tour card in 2020 resulted in him being automatically through to the Final Stage, and he won through on the first day, despite being several legs down in several games.
Shepherd was the comeback king of Q-School and I believe he could be the comeback king on the ProTour. He didn’t get to a world final by accident and at only 34 years of age still has time on his side.
Raymond van Barneveld
You’ve been waiting for this one, haven’t you? Just 14 months after an apparent farewell season that didn’t go anything like how he wanted and deserved, Barney’s back.
Seemingly only interested in the televised events, it was rare to see RVB play any Players Championships or European Tour events over the last four or five years of his first run in the PDC.
The start of his last season saw him ranked at number 28 and left him with no choice but to enter the smaller events. He started looking capable of ending his career with a bang, having a good World Series and getting to two quarter-finals in the Autumn.
Sadly for Barney, and his legions of fans, he was dumped out by Darin Young in the first round of his last event, at the World Championship. Less than a year into his retirement from the professional game, the shock announcement came that the five-time world champion was entering Q-School.
I’m unsure what Barney’s objectives are this season, all I know is that if he sets realistic targets, I’m sure he is still capable of achieving them.
Sometimes I believe the term “future world champion’ is banded around far too easily, whether it be in boxing, snooker, Formula 1 and yes, even darts.
In the case of Keane Barry, though, this is more than warranted and if we’re counting junior titles, he’s already done it. Barry has won World Championships at youth level, beating youngster Leighton Bennett for the BDO title and fellow new tour card holder Adam Gawlas for the JDC title.
Under the current age bracket, Barry will get another seven attempts to add a PDC World Youth Championship to his bulging trophy cabinet. The Irishman has appeared in the PDC’s senior World Championship twice now, and played much better than the one set he’s got to show for it.
Like the aforementioned David Evans, Barry didn’t have to go to Q-School to attain his tour card. He won his spot in the 128 on the Development Tour Order of Merit, which is some achievement. Barry is without doubt one to watch and I see no reason why he can’t win a maiden senior PDC event over the next few years.