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“Probably the most naturally gifted darts player I have ever seen.” – Wayne Mardle

Aged just 21, Tiger Woods strolled up to the 18th green on Masters Sunday in 1997 knowing victory was assured. 

In all honesty, victory was assured the moment he began his final round, such was his nine shot advantage over Costantino Rocca at Augusta on 13th April 1997. The day which changed golf forever.

The ‘Tiger effect’ was born. Purses rapidly improved – going from $101m in 1997 to $292m by 2008 – a staggering rise, while more people tuned in to watch Woods as he began to dominate the sport.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is another child prodigy who went on to dominate their sport – albeit in a more consistent manner – similar to Woods.

He won the UK Championship in 1993 aged just 17, the youngest ever winner of a triple crown event before becoming the oldest winner of one earlier this year at the Masters, aged 48.

With 23 triple crown titles, including seven world titles, ‘The Rocket’ can lay claim to being the finest player to pick up a cue.

Both Woods and O’Sullivan have transcended their respective sports over the previous 30 years and they are excellent examples of wonderkids who reached the very top and stayed there.

Luke Littler certainly fits into the wonder kid description, the key question is, can he do for darts what the aforementioned duo did for golf and snooker?

Luke Littler shocked the darting world at the 2024 PDC World Darts Championships

Not since Wayne Rooney lashed home a stunning 25 yard effort off the underside of the crossbar at Goodison Park in 2002 has a 16-year-old Englishman been hyped up as much as Littler in recent months.

He did have plenty of pedigree heading into the World Championships, securing the 2023 PDC World Youth Championships just a month before the two-week extravaganza began at the Alexandra Palace.

The next two weeks were a dream. Christian Kist was put to the sword. Andrew Gilding was next. Matt Campbell and Raymond van Barneveld then both succumbed to 4-1 defeats against Littler. The boy who could be king.

Brendan Dolan was sent packing 5-1 and Littler had averaged over 100 in all his matches so far as more and more people began to sit up and take notice.

A semi final against former world champion Rob Cross was where his fairytale was meant to end. Not a chance. 

Despite losing the first set, the youngster eventually sealed a 6-2 win that sent him through to the final.

His post-match kebab ritual after every win was paying off handsomely as a final showdown against Luke Humphries awaited.

The 28-year-old had won his first three major titles in the space of just two and a half months, yet all the pressure was on him to deliver against a 16-year-old. A boy who couldn’t yet legally drive or buy alcohol.

What a tournament. Humphries took the title by defeating Littler 7-4, but the real story was how a teenager from Runcorn sent shockwaves reverberating through the sporting world.

What next for Luke ‘The Nuke’ Littler? Can he inspire the next generation of players or will his flame extinguish after just a few years in the spotlight.

Luke Littler

The teenager could inspire a generation

Once the dust had settled after his defeat to Humphries, it soon transpired that the teenager had played his part in a historical evening for darts.

A total of £4.8m people tuned in to watch the final, making it the most watched darts event ever on Sky. In fact, it was the most watched non-footballing event in the channels’ history – simply incredible numbers.

It may not be in the same ballpark of the 1985 World Snooker Championship between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor, which pulled in a staggering £18.5m viewers, yet this feels like it could be the start of something special in darts.

Photo credit PA/PA Wire

Littler has the potential to be a main attraction and generate pulling power which could see the sport take new and unparalleled heights over the coming years, something which his more accomplished peers have failed to do despite their best efforts.

Indeed, the 17-year-old recently became the first darts player to hit 1m Instagram followers, double the number than Michael van Gerwen. Life is coming at the youngster fast, and judging by his recent performances, he is loving every minute.

Not only did Littler become the youngest person to ever hit a nine darter in a televised competition at the Bahrain Masters, but he actually went on to win the event.

Nathan Aspinall, Gerwen Price and Van Gerwen were all defeated and if the result proved he wasn’t a flash in the pan, a run to the final of the Dutch Darts Masters a week later continued to build the narrative that perhaps he is here to stay.

The Englishman (or boy rather) must be wary of this rapid ascent however, as many a teenage prodigy has burst onto the scene before suffering a tragic demise.

Emma Raducanu exploded, rather than burst, onto the tennis scene by winning the 2021 US Open title just weeks after reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon as an 18-year-old.  Yet her recent downward trajectory must serve as a warning to Littler.

Since that majestic triumph at Flushing Meadows two and a half years ago, Raducanu has gone through five coaches, suffered from a succession of injuries, and won only 27 matches. 

Has the Grand Slam triumph come too soon? With the financial rewards and fame that comes with such an accolade, perhaps it has done her more harm than good. Raducanu admitted this herself when she opened up stating, “I wish I’d never won the US Open.”

As much as Littler would have wanted to become the youngest-ever darts world champion, might finishing as runner-up stand him in a better position for long-term success?

The decision to include him in the eight man Premier League lineup following his breakthrough at the Alexandra Palace could prove to be a wonderful marketing decision as he is the name on everyone’s lips at the moment.

When the fixtures were released, all eyes were on the repeat of the world final between Humphries and Littler and it did not disappoint. He averaged over 100 in a 6-2 victory and revenge was sweet, despite losing his next match against Michael Smith.

Littler’s meteoric rise over the previous few weeks may usher darts into a golden era which not only sees viewing figures continue to soar through the roof, but also heralding in a new generation of players.

Van Gerwen has proven to be the most consistent star the sport has seen since Phil Taylor retired in 2018, winning a total of 15 major titles since his previous world crown in 2019. There is no doubt the Dutchman is still the man to beat when it comes to taking over as the top dog of the sport, with his results over the previous decade justifying his generational talent status.

Littler? The teenager may just be a once-in-a-lifetime talent.

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