Column #162 An American Stallion
June 29, 2004
An American Stallion
Well darts fans, some of you will be pleased to know that the time for carefully crafted ditties about baseball fantasy camps, genius chickens and quarter-ante games of poker is over. This should be especially good news for the Professional Darts Corporation’s (PDC) Dick Allix, Gayle Farmer and Tommy Cox, who seem to scratch their heads every time we pass each other in the hall. They don’t understand the correlation between baseball, chickens, poker and the sport of darts. In fact, they don’t seem to understand anything I write. If it’s any consolation, my British amigos, neither does anybody else. Including me.
The even better news here in the City of Entertainment is that the PDC’s third Las Vegas Desert Classic extravaganza is in full swing. Better news yet, at least for the likes of the best shooters in the world — and they’re all here — is that, so far, they have no reason to fear facing me on stage. I went down 4-0 in the first qualifier this morning to England’s young Andrew Belton. The score belies the closeness of the match however. Seriously. Ask Belton. Several times my darts even landed inside the triple ring. In the second round I was torn apart by an older bloke named Brian Griffiths. Blimey, I felt like a fox at a foxhunt.
Despite top-notch shooting by Americans Paul Lim and Johnny “K” Kuczynski, the first qualifier saw four Brits — Steve Coote, Bob Anderson, Dennis Priestley and Mark Dudbridge — advance to Wednesday’s first stage event. For the ladies, Trina Gulliver booked her spot in the final four with relative ease over hometown favorite and perennial US number one, Stacy Bromberg. Not that their play was affected, but Lim, Kuczynski and Bromberg were just three among many blurry-eyed darters who, due to bad weather and corresponding flight delays out of Ft. Lauderdale, arrived mere hours before the opening dart was thrown.
As the second qualifier weeded out the field, four Americans — Ray Carver and Sacramento’s Scott Burnett along with Lim and Kuczynski, for the second time of the day — fought their way into the final 32. A clearly exhausted Lim — tired not just due to the Florida to Nevada flight delay but also from a day-long flight from Bangkok the day before the Cherry Bomb Classic — went down to the sharp-shooting and, after particularly good shots, sometimes almost tap-dancing, Burnette. Just ten boards away, Carver’s hopes (until tomorrow) were crushed 4-1 by England’s Wes Newton.
In the top 16 (and just after Bromberg wasted no time taking out her nemesis and the current US number two, Carolyn Mars, to claim the second spot in the final four for the ladies), Burnett and Kuczynski faced off in an east coast/west showdown to decide who would take on England’s Shayne “the Bulldog” Burgess for their second chance at a place on the stage. Burnett shot strong but Kuczynski was on fire. With the support of a gathering crowd — Laurette Meddis, Bill Davis, Darin Young, Debbie Gordon and John Brown among the throng — Kuczynski moved into the final eight.
As emcee, Phil Jones, announced the board for the “Bulldog” vs. Johnny “K” match up the crowd moved and grew to include Jamaica’s Hubert Brown (who manhandled me at the Florida Open last fall), Guyana’s Norman Madhoo, the “other Bulldog” Darren Parzow, and an equal-sized contingent from England including some Rastafarian-looking bloke who was as loud as he was frickin’ weird looking.
Super darts saw Kuczynski shock Burgess and blaze into a 3-0 lead in the best of seven series. But Burgess stepped it up a notch and fought back, recording back-to-back 180’s and some crucial closes and, for what seemed like a never-ending moment — that grew into minutes — the US contingent, and I’m betting even Johnny “K” himself, could feel victory slipping away.
But then the Bulldog himself seemed to weaken, missing the triple and slipping a dart here and there into the one and five pies. Johnny “K” picked up the pace, bore down, took advantage and to the absolutely annoying (but, in the end, sweet — so sweet) Rasta-man urgings to the Bulldog to hang in tough, Kuczynski confidently stroked a 56-close to take the match 4-2 and earn his spot, starting Wednesday, on stage with the rest of the best in the world.
Advancing with Kuczynski from the second qualifier are England’s Paul Williams, Darren Webster and James Wade.
And then it was over. Just as the day began with 350 darters sleepily walking the long walk from their hotel rooms, under the pulsating casino lights and past the slot machines and gaming tables, expensive restaurants and fancy shops, and into the winding underbelly of the Grand Arena to the bar and the boards — the process reversed itself.
Some began the stroll back to their rooms to sleep. Some paired off for dinner. Some just grabbed another drink and sat down at the blackjack tables to forget the shots they shouldn’t have missed.
Still others, principally (though quite possibly, not entirely) those of the male persuasion, headed to a place unknown to partake in a secret ritual for defending Desert Classic champion, Peter Manley. It’s a ritual we Americans call a bachelor party. The Brits call it a “stag” party, which suggests that they at least think of themselves at stallions.
All I can say is, if the caliber of today’s play is any indication, when it comes to darts anyway, they have every right to the claim.
And, at least until Wednesday, so does Johnny “K”.
From the Field,
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