Making the leap from promising youngster to proven winner at the oche this year, Luke Humphries will take it all as he plans his way to the top of darts.
Cool Hand won his first PDC Senior title at a Players Championship in February and has followed it up in stunning fashion by winning three European Tour titles in just over four weeks in April and May.
With three World Cup quarter-finals before this season, success doesn’t come out of the blue, but clinching four titles in the first six months of the year surpasses expectations for even one of the sport’s brightest stars.
Not settling for those quarter-final runs was key for the 27-year-old, who has learned that aiming high is chasing trophies.
“I think it comes with experience,” Humphries said Metro.co.uk. “In the early years of my career, I got to a couple of quarters, the odd semi-final, and I didn’t really think I could make the final.
“Last year I reached the final but I was more happy to be there than focused on winning. It’s just excitement, you dream of being in the PDC final, suddenly you’re there but you don’t really think about winning.
“This year was different, very different. As soon as I got to the first ProTour final, I was totally focused on winning it, and it’s been that way on every European Tour I’ve played that year. It’s no coincidence that after winning the first one, I’ve won the other two and I’m in a freeroll right now.’
Humphries’ superb run to the UK Open final in 2021 was something of a turning point in his darts journey, apparently the first and last time he was happy to savor the opportunity to reach the showcase match when he was of James Wade was beaten.
It was also when he proved beyond a doubt that he belonged to the elite after beating Michael van Gerwen 11-5 and a 107+ average in the semifinals.
“It was my first ever PDC final and it opened my eyes to what I can achieve in this sport,” he said. “People didn’t expect me to play as well as I did against Michael in the semifinals.
“Everyone knew I was a decent player but I think I showed a lot of people how good I can be. That was followed by some good darts, some great successes and I think there’s a lot more to come.”
Perhaps it’s the invaluable experience on the oche that brings fame to the Humphries household, or perhaps it’s the news that he’s expecting his first son later this year, which seems to coincide with his fine form.
“I think it made a difference!” said Luke. “Since we found out, I’ve been winning all these tournaments, so it certainly hasn’t made it any harder for me.
“We found out in January, three or four days before I won my first ProTour title. Then I found out we were having a boy and three or four days later I won another title. It seems to work.”
The newcomer will bring a whole new level of pressure, but the intensity at the oche seems to have taken over Cool Hand.
His hat-trick in the Alexandra Palace quarter-finals proved he can handle the biggest stages and he enjoys being focused on him in front of big crowds.
“I like the pressure, I never felt like I would get used to it, but the pressure on stage makes me play better,” he said.
“It’s a weird feeling, it’s different, it makes you want to give it your all all the time. Sometimes I can feel guilty on stage because I’m not in as good a mood as I could be and I think that’s the key to the stage, I’m really up for it, wanting to perform well every time and that shines I also like the pressure more.
“I’m more than happy to be a top stage player because that’s where I will make most of my ranking money.”
Humphries’ success is all the more impressive when you know he was plagued by anxiety early in his young career, but after speaking out about his mental health he’s learned to manage it and not let it affect his arrows.
“It’s something I always have to deal with, it’s never going to leave me forever, but it’s definitely better managed,” he explained. “I’m in a much, much better place than I was two or three years ago.
“It held me back, it was hard for me to switch off, and when you’re alone in hotels or wherever, the anxiety creeps in because you’re just thinking all the time and there’s nothing you can do about it.
“It’s not gone but I’m coping a lot better now, I don’t get really bad episodes anymore, no really bad panic attacks, just scared sometimes. But going on stage hasn’t really affected me, it just comes at random times, but it’s something I have to deal with and I think I’m doing well at the moment.
“It affected my darts so I came out a few years ago and I’ve been open and honest about it, I’ve had scary episodes on stage, it was pretty scary in front of all these people, I didn’t know what to do, I wanted to just walk off the stage. I don’t understand this anymore, it’s something I have control over and it won’t stop me from reaching the heights of darts I envisioned.
Humphries sought professional help to get his anxiety under control, but he feels he’s largely found his own way of dealing with it, and speaking out about it publicly was a big part of the turnaround.
“I decided to do cognitive behavioral therapy, but I think I did it mostly myself. You must learn to accept the feelings and deal with them in the best possible way for you. I don’t struggle with it as much anymore, I’ve learned to deal with it, accepting the feelings and recognizing the triggers when it happens.
“It definitely helped to speak up. Sometimes I got it at Pro Tours and I felt like people were watching and staring at me when they weren’t. It was all over me and I just wanted to be open about it.
“I knew people do it in different sports and I wanted to break the mold a little bit and be honest with darts.
“Quite a few pros told me straight away that they too had experienced it and thought it was just their fault. It shocked me how many dart players said they had it too, I thought I was the only one. Speaking up was the best decision because it allowed us all to realize that we’re not alone, it’s pretty common.
With those bouts of the past under control, trophies on the way, and ranked No. 13 in the world, Humphries is poised to continue riding this wave, and both want and expect much more success in the months to come.
“I’ve always dreamed of being in the top 16 for a day or 30 years, just to finish there would be great,” he said. “But the position I’m in now won’t be for one day, will it? It looks like a few years.
“I’m happy to be where I am, I deserve to be there, but I’m not happy that I can finish in the top eight at the end of the year or after the World Cup, I know I think not that that’s an unrealistic goal. The sky is the limit in this sport and hard work and dedication will take you as far as you want.
“I would also like to pick up a major this year. I think my time is coming slowly but surely. There’s no guarantee of winning big titles, it’s another step. I don’t push myself or rush it, but when it comes I’m very, very happy
“The Premier League is also something I talk about a lot and want to be involved with.”
The Premier League is a bit different from other destinations in the sport as most players will have to try and get their way in order to enter the invitational event, but that’s something Cool Hand likes to do.
“Sometimes the Premier League can get a bit stale, there are players who seem to be moaning a bit and complain that they’re tired a lot,” he said. “It’s part of being in the Premier League, if it affects them that much then maybe take a year off and let some other people who are dying to play in it try it.
“I think I would thrive, I play well against the top players and I just want to test myself and see how I am in a Premier League scenario. I think I’d do fine, but I’ll never know until I get in there. Top 8 and Premier League for next year, that would be incredible in my books.
Full of confidence, but also aware of how quickly things can change at the oche, Humphries is eager to capitalize on his fine form and continue climbing the PDC ladder.
“Darts can be very strange, you can be up one minute and down the next,” he said. “It came much quicker than I ever expected. I’m very happy with how I played and how it went.
“There are many more tournaments to come and I will win as many as I can.”
MORE : James Wade returns to Premier League darts after hospitalization in Germany
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/05/31/luke-humphries-on-handling-pressure-managing-anxiety-and-realising-dreams-16745058/ Luke Humphries on coping with pressure, overcoming fears and making dreams come true