Glory surely awaits rising PDC star Luke Humphries. That is certainly the popular opinion amongst the vast majority of darts fans who strongly believe that destiny beckons.
The 26-year-old came agonisingly close to seeing his name up in the lights. Humphries almost went all the way in the UK Open, only to be denied in the final by a sublime James Wade.
It’s been a rapid climb up the rankings for ‘Cool Hand’. Since winning the PDC Development Tour in 2017, the Berkshire man has excelled on the main circuit and is widely tipped to claim a major television title very soon.
In his World Championship debut just over two years ago, Humphries surprised many by reaching the quarter-finals. His victory en-route over reigning champion, Rob Cross was a reverberating knock on the Alexandra Palace door.
Proving he was no flash in the pan, Humphries then repeated the feat in the 2020 World Championships where his resurgent run was halted in the last eight by the eventual winner, Peter Wright.
But for Luke, these achievements have been blighted by mental health issues that have threatened his future in the sport. Much publicised at the time, he began to suffer from serious anxiety complications which almost saw him walk away from darts for good.
He explains: “I first felt it in December 2017, just before the World Championships. I was playing a few exhibitions and started experiencing uncomfortable feelings in my chest and down my arms. It wasn’t so much pain but unpleasant nonetheless. Naturally, I was concerned it could be something serious so decided to seek professional medical help.
“I went to Basingstoke to visit a leading UK cardiologist. He ran some tests including a cardiogram to check it wasn’t anything serious with my heart. Thankfully the results came back all clear, so we were able to rule that out. It was then suggested that the issue was an anxiety disorder but I wasn’t convinced.
“At the start of 2018 I was feeling relatively fine. The uncomfortable sensations were usually occurring in my personal life, not on the oche and tended to happen more in the evenings. But as the months went by, it gradually crept into my game too.
“Then at the World Championships at the end of that year, it peaked. I was playing current champion, Rob Cross and with the scores at 2-2 in sets, we headed into a break. When I got backstage a real state of panic came over me, it was incredibly worrying. My chest began feeling weird and I genuinely didn’t think I could continue the match. Somehow I managed to find a way to get back out on the stage and surprisingly won the game 4-2.
“To this day, I have no idea how I was able to even play, let alone put out the reigning World Champion. I’d enjoyed some decent wins that year but nothing to suggest I was capable of beating Rob, it was a huge win for me. Ten minutes after the game, Dave Clark interviewed me for Sky Sports and I felt absolutely fine.
“Everything was then relatively ok until it happened again in April 2019. I was leading James Wade in a European event when my mind just went. This time, I began doubting myself with every dart and went from winning the match to losing emphatically.
“At that point, I was ready to throw in the towel, my health came first. If darts was creating anxiety issues then that would be the thing to give up. I’d rather go back to working as a roofer than living like that with the pressure of the game affecting my mental health.
“When I put up a post on social media to say I was seriously thinking about quitting professional darts, it caused quite a stir. I have always been incredibly close to my parents and brother, they are my rock and forever there to offer me love and support.
“My Dad advised me against making any hasty decisions. He reminded me of the hard work and dedication I’d put in to get this far. Together with my Mum, they suggested I take a breather to think, not to throw it all away without exploring every avenue of help available.
“When I spoke to my management team as well as my sponsors, they also offered plenty of support. They recommended I take a step back, maybe miss a few events, and have a long think about my future. I even went to see a cognitive behavioural therapist which helped.
“Nowadays, the feelings of anxiety are still there but I now understand it. I no longer allow the sensations to be confused with anything else, I know immediately that it’s not a serious medical condition. I’ve learnt that it’s just a case of drawing that distinction enabling me to deal with it much better.”
Speaking on the impact of performing without fans in attendance, Humphries says: “Fortunately, playing behind closed doors hasn’t really affected my game too much. It didn’t take a lot of adjusting, we still have crowd noises through the speakers. When you are in the zone, focussed on the game you don’t really think about it too much. It’s only when you turn around and see an empty arena that it really hits home.
“Of course, it’s different for every single player. Some feed off the crowd and rely on them to create adrenaline but I am a little more placid than most and manage to generate my own. But don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait until fans return! The last year has made us all appreciate exactly how huge their part in the game is.
“Hats off to the PDC, I have to give them enormous credit. It hasn’t been easy for any sport, most have really struggled yet we still have a job and our organsation have maintained the full prize money since the pandemic began.”
Nowadays, darts manufacturers play a key role in the modern game. Players are always ‘tinkering with their equipment’ and looking for the magic formula which gives them that perfect trophy-winning mini-missile.
Luke is also a proud member of the star-studded Red Dragon team. With stablemates including the past two World Champions, Gerwyn Price and Peter Wright.
“Red Dragon have definitely propelled me to the heights I have been experiencing. Whenever I’ve asked for a change of design to my darts, Simon and Lee have been a huge help. “I know it’s a cliché but without them and my management company MODUS, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today.”
When darts fans shout out their predictions for the next player to make a breakthrough and win that elusive maiden television title, the name of Luke Humphries is regularly in the mix. For now, the man himself seems happy to ‘Play It Cool’.
Article originally published in Dart World Magazine Issue 574
Words by Paul Woodage. Republished by Red Dragon Darts
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