For almost two decades the UK dominated the game of darts. That was until a 27-year-old from Ontario in Canada walked through the doors of the iconic Lakeside Country Club a virtual unknown and burst out as the 1994 World Champion. That man’s name was John Part.
Prior to that groundbreaking victory, no player outside British shores had lifted the famous trophy. It was a true landmark occasion that took darts into relatively uncharted global waters and marked the coronation of one of the sports greatest ever players.
Part has since replicated his genius as a player by expertly adapting his darting knowledge to become a leading commentator and pundit. Often referred to as the most intelligent man in the game, the ‘Einstein of the oche’ is more than worthy of that moniker.
Growing up in Ontario, ice hockey, football, baseball and basketball made most of the sporting headlines. But it was the Christmas gift of a dartboard at the age of 21 years old which triggered John Part’s tungsten interest.
“I just enjoyed the process of throwing to hit targets. I was actually spurred on by how much harder it was than it seems at first look.
“At the time my awareness of the game locally was non-existent but as it turns out there was quite a healthy amount of recreational darts going on. Organisations such as Darts Ontario, member of the National Darts Federation of Canada and in turn member of the World Darts Federation.
“I worked a few sales jobs without much success. Then I was an assistant to an accountant for a couple of years before he sadly passed away. I then went to work for a friend from darts who allowed me flexibility of hours while I was getting into the game more and more. That friend was Charles Menezes who was a decent local player. He and his business partner Doug Thomas treated me very well working for their business, Speciality Sports Supplies, who themselves developed a large niche market in darts shirts in Canada along the way.”
Just a few years after picking up a dart for the very first time, Part won the 1991 Syracuse Open and turned professional in the same year. Then in 1994, he made history by becoming the first non-Briton to become a World Champion in the sport. It came at a time when darts was undergoing a major renaissance. We had witnessed the birth of the World Darts Council (later the PDC) to which a lot of players had crossed over from the British Darts Organisation to compete. Of course, darts fans refer to it as ‘the split’.
The year 1994 witnessed the crowning of two World Champions for the very first time with Dennis Priestley claiming the inaugural PDC title.
“There was a tremendous amount going on in the world of darts at the time. Any year there are challenges for a World Champion beyond actually winning that title. As it was the first year with two champions, myself and Dennis Priestley became the focal point of probably the most rhetoric both negative and positive in the history of the game. I was well aware of my achievement as the first non-UK champion, but somehow there was just so much else going on that it was less the focus at the time.
“My win did garner a fair amount of television and print media attention initially but that died down quickly enough. I would say the net result on mainstream Canada was negligible. For all the players across North America it was a year of inspiration with my win and then Larry Butler winning the first World Matchplay in July six months later. Larry’s win against Dennis [Priestley] answered those who maintained that my victory was only because of the split. Between Larry and I, we cracked the code.”
Asked if his maiden PDC World Championship crown in 2003 felt more prestigious than the BDO title he lifted almost a decade earlier, Part added: “It ended nine years of the negative stuff that came out of the split. I was the first non-English winner of the PDC World Championship and there was no way of tarnishing that.
“On a smaller level, the personal satisfaction of finally overcoming and beating Phil Taylor, the man who was clearly the finest player ever by far at that point was fairly overwhelming. It was an achievement that was quite the opposite of the first title in that it took years of building up to, including the 2001 World Championship final loss and the much closer 2002 World Matchplay final defeat 16-18 [both to Taylor]. So yes, with all that going on in my head it was very much more important to me personally.”
So why haven’t more players from North America become household names amongst darts fans?
“There is certainly a case to be made that the sheer numbers would make one believe we would have had more concrete success. I don’t think it’s the distance, the lack of profile in the mainstream is the real issue. I think it would be easy to argue that North America has the largest amount of different sports leagues all already competing with each other for the spotlight.
“I think even in England we can see the effect of profile and of money in the sport on the numbers of people making concerted efforts at becoming pros not so much for an inherent love or interest in the game, but for the rewards on offer. That’s not directed at anyone specifically, but in the nineties, we were just happy we had somewhere to be a pro and to be able to just get by doing that if you were one of the lucky ones.
“Jeff Smith’s pedigree has shown itself consistently for many years now. Unfortunately, Matt Campbell missed out on becoming the sixth Canadian to obtain a PDC tour card through the recent Q-school. I’ll allow myself a bit of friendly rivalry with the Americans and note we are a little ahead in that category.
“Saying that Danny Lauby was quite close to getting a tour card after a good day one performance before and Danny Baggish did extremely well to gain his on the final day. I think the way COVID-19 has forced the PDC to change how they structure and schedule their pro tour events is extremely helpful to any of us who do get cards, as long as travel doesn’t get choked off entirely. I’m hoping the PDC keeps this strategy moving forward. Also, the venue hotels are much more practical all around for the players.
“Making the decision to go to Q-school is very expensive so it’s hard for those who do have the potential to make that leap, let alone figure out what they would do if they got a tour card.”
Nowadays, we are far more used to John Part the commentator, pundit and as a member of the Sky Sports presentation team. However, his appetite for competitive darts still burns deep and he isn’t quite ready to hang up his arrows just yet. In 2018, Part reminded planet darts he is more than capable and rolled back the years to reach the quarter-finals of the UK Open.
“It didn’t surprise me, I think I’ve just lacked quality opportunities. When Canada reached the World Cup quarter-final in 2016 I felt very good, especially during the victory against Wales [Gerwyn Price and Mark Webster]. I am always capable on the big stage and realise I’m far from perfection but always carry a real threat.
“Commentary and punditry was never a plan. I’ve tried to make the most of opportunities as they come along, and commentary is one which I do enjoy quite a bit. The one thing it can’t give is the buzz of playing yourself. That said, as fans will attest, at times we can become almost as in the moment as players themselves. One great advantage of impartiality is you enjoy all of the great moments of a tournament rather than just your own.”
Still residing in Canada, Part added: “I try not to dwell on the demands of travel too much. I’ve just looked at it as a necessity and part of the job of my life, whether it was very long drives in the early stages of my career or the long flights to faraway places. The Toronto-London journey is manageable enough, and the time difference of five hours maybe is the bigger issue. I do try and add in a day or two if I’m going to throw. ”
Since events were forced to be played without fans in attendance, darts has seen a number of PDC maiden major winners. But just how big a factor is playing for the game’s top honours in empty arenas to the players?
“I think much of it is the behind-closed-doors aspect of the competitions. More players were helped than were harmed by it and those who were harmed got over it pretty well in the end. That said the deeper standard means much more in that sterile environment. It will be very interesting to see what unfolds when crowds are allowed back into majors as it will all seem new again to many.”
Recognised as a brilliant counter, Part knows the importance of good board management and the difficulties facing those who aren’t mathematically adept.
“I’m not sure one can overcome it if they aren’t numerically inclined. If I struggled I’d try to watch players like Michael van Gerwen who switch often and study the logic behind it, not just what the path is. Experience is ultimately the best teacher if you observe what paths your opponents opt for. Also, make sure to learn from your mistakes by analysing what the correct shots may have been afterward.”
So after ruling himself out of a return this year due to the restrictions, will we see a big comeback from the three-time World Champion from Canada and PDC Hall of Famer in 2022?
“I’ve played Q-School every year that I haven’t held a tour card. Last year I beat a couple of guys that ended up getting cards but really just didn’t make the one full run I needed. In the first Q-School, I played I was successful. I really enjoy the competition and hope to be there next year.
Either way, the world of darts will, fortunately, see plenty of the Canadian for the foreseeable future.
Words: Paul Woodage
Lead Images: L Lustig (PDC)
Originally published in Darts World Magazine (Issue 574) and re-produced online in anticipation of the inaugural Word Senior Darts championships from 3rd-5th of February 2022.
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