DARREN Johnson insists he is a ‘different animal’ this year and is determined to prove that at the PDC UK Open which starts today.
The Mexborough thrower earned automatic entry into tomorrow night’s third round stage of the tournament, held at Bolton’s Reebok Stadium, after finishing 13th in the order of merit from the eight qualifying stages.
Johnson finished ahead of the likes of top names Terry Jenkins, Colin Lloyd and Paul Nicholson and puts his improvement down to a change in his approach.
The 44-year-old told the Times: “I think I’m a different animal this year.
“I’ve put a lot more into my darts and become more dedicated.
“I make sure I practice more and I’ve made a few changes to my game like switching to different darts.
“It’s working because the darts are landing where I want them to a lot more.”
Johnson has played darts for more than 20 years and been on the PDC tour for the past five.
But he says this is the first he has taken a professional approach.
He said: “For the 20-odd years I’ve played darts has always been a hobby for me.
“I’ve played in pub leagues and at county level but it’s always been something I’ve done as an aside.
“But darts has become a professional sport and I thought I’ve got to change my approach.”
Johnson is forced to arrange his practice sessions around his job as an engineer in Halifax.
He said: “It’s difficult because I’m travelling for three hours a day and working for eight.
“Then I’ve got to get on the board to get my practice in.
“I try to do it straight away so I don’t settle.
“It’s difficult because I get to tournaments at weekends and I’m coming up against players that do it full time so it’s hard to compete.
“I’d love to play darts full–time but I’ve got a lot of work to do before then.”
Johnson’s quest begins tomorrow night at the UK Open against an as-yet undetermined opponent.
He will find out who he will play after today’s second round but knows if he can string a few wins together the prize money will mount which will mean a rise up the rankings from his current 63rd placing.
He said: “I really want to get into the meat of the tournament.
“I’ve been playing really well in qualifying and I got through to the semi–finals of one so there’s no reason why I can’t do something similar again.
“I’ve never got past the last 64 stage before so to get beyond that would be an achievement.
“A few years ago I lost 5-4 to Gary Mawson in the last 64 and he went on to the final that year which was a bit of a surprise.
“That could be me this year.”
One man who Johnson would like to face is regular practice partner Scunthorpe thrower Dave Ladley.
The pair meet for a three hour practice session each week and have developed a friendly rivalry.
Ladley must come through a preliminary round clash with South Elmsall’s Mark Lawrence, another friend of the pair.
A good performance in Bolton will stand Johnson in good stead to qualify for this year’s other televised tournaments.
He said: “My aims for this year were to qualify for the UK Open, the Grand Slam and the World Championships.
“I’ve done one of those things and I’m determined to achieve all three.
“I’ve got to the last qualifying stage for the World Championships in the past but I’ve never been there.
“Looking ahead, I need to qualify for more TV tournaments to build myself up in the sport more.
“But to be at the Worlds ahead of all the others would be a dream come true.”
Johnson lives on Church Street, the home of Mexborough’s other professional darts player Dennis Priestley.
The two were one-time practice partners and still travel to tournaments together.
Johnson said: “I picked up a lot by just watching Dennis and taking notice of what he does.
“Things like going to bed early the night before a tournament rather than staying in the bar with the other lads.
“You’re always going to learn from someone like him.”
Priestley will meet the winner of the Lawrence versus Ladley clash in the first round this afternoon.