Part 1 – Line Up & Background.
Much is being made of the Singha Beer Grand Slam of Darts this year. The combination of a great format, newly ranked by the PDC, a few fairy tales,climb downs and fierce old rivalries have combined to bring interest to a peak.
The entry of Martin Adams, three time BDO (British Darts Organisation) World Champion, into the event has brought much interest and controversy. Not least due to Adams previously refusing to play and been rather uncomplimentary about the PDC ( Professional Darts Corporation) and its chairman, Barry Hearn.
Nevertheless SKY, never known to miss a good hype job, have made much of his entry and together with the hugely popular, across all divides, Andy “The Viking” Fordham, Wolfie will lead the challenge of the BDO players amid a barrage of noise, and possibly a bit of stick, from the famously vociferous Wolverhampton crowd.
Real Grand Slam?
Indeed it could be argued that this year may be the first real Grand Slam. Players that have excelled in a variety of codes/organisations have qualified, with the early stages looking far more balanced than in previous years.
For the first time 8 BDO players were selected through a combination of ranking/championship results and a wild card qualifier. The 8 players have been placed into the eight separate groups for the round robin stage of the event. This places them with a PDC seed, A PDC Automatic Qualifier and a PDC Wildcard qualifier.
However due to the hoopla surrounding Adams, and the feel good factor about Fordham, many in this years field have been quietly forgotten or down played.
The nature of the qualifiers, the closer entwining with European darts and better relations between the two organisations means that the field features 8 non PDC or affiliated players in the traditional sense. Previous Grand Slams have featured invited players for many differing reasons, Women’s representatives under various banners, youth representatives, North American representatives etc. Together with a handful of BDO players selected both on a talent and entertainment basis. There are very few of the invited contestants this time.
Thus for the first time every group is made up of a top 8 PDC player, then another from 8 who are classed in the top bracket as well as a third “form PDC Player” who qualified through a very tough wildcard event only a couple of weeks ago. No BDO player has another in their group and possibly only Martin Phillips can be classed as having an invitee. The other invitee Keegan Brown has since claimed a Pro Tour event and appeared on TV/ Stage a number of times.
The 8 ‘BDO Representatives’ are really nothing of the sort. Times have changed and a whole different type of player has made it through to the Grand Slam.
1) Martin Adams: Although Adams may have been the BDO poster boy for the last few years he has competed in a number of events with players of both codes in the past reaching the semi’s and qtrs of what are now flagship PDC events.
2) Andy Fordham: The Viking, played PDC events for a couple of years recently and has often been involved in promotional events and other activities with SKY and the PDC. Thus he will be more than familiar with the atmosphere, methods and players within the PDC system.
3) Larry Buttler: The Bald Eagle, should be the story of the event so far, his remarkable last few weeks of world wide darts included qualifying for the grand slam and reaching the final of Winmau World Masters. But, as any follower knows, this guy is a class act. He is already a PDC major Champion, having claimed the World Matchplay title by defeating Dennis Priestley in 1994. He also has recent PDC experience with the World Cup of Darts in 2014. The only enemy that Larry has may be tiredness, he has played a huge amount of the highest quality darts recently and at 58, he may not have been planning for it.
4) Scott Mitchell: Current Lakeside World Champion and perhaps the most representative of the majority of BDO players of recent times. He is well liked by all and does not seem to play the code v code game. Has little experience of the PDC system, but his status and popularity may help him find his best.
5) Martin Phillips: Another very well liked and talented player who has played the Grand Slam enough to know what to expect. Status as elder statesman,without the edge that follows Adams, combined with very high ability especially in the short early stages.
6-8) Oosterhuis, Van Der Horst & De Vos: These three players are the lesser known by the majority of the public and perhaps even the PDC players. As well as being part of the Belgian sporting boom, De Vos has won a TV major but will be relatively unknown to many. The other two are the qualifiers from the, Dutch Association organised, European qualifier. Oosterhuis is limited on experience and has non of the PDC way and Van der Horst is much the same but with less form that is visible.
The long and short of this is that, rather than PDC vs BDO, the 2015 GSoD is Current PDC vs 5 seriously well qualified & experienced players, 4 of whom have PDC / Mixed Code / Grand Slam experience, and 3 more who have also qualified in very tough ways but do not yet have huge amounts of experience to fall back on.
In Part II, I shall have a look at the groups and see who is likely to be making an early exit and who could go on and do some real damage. Will the full time pro’s of the PDC make hay and demonstrate the higher level claimed by their supporters? or will the fact that the non PDC players will not be pressured by rankings or expectation mean that they have the upper hand? Many shocks and surprises occur in the GSoD and this year will be no exception.