After years of working construction in Florida and playing in not especially lucrative darts events in the United States, Danny Baggish finally made his big breakthrough earlier this month. At age 37, he qualified for the PDC Pro Tour, the top level of world darts.
Although a few Americans played on tour a decade ago, Baggish is the first player from the United States to earn his place through the qualifying school tournament. He has now qualified to play against the best players in the world for the next two years, mostly in Britain.
Baggish, from Winter Haven, Fla., will make his debut on Thursday in the Players Championship in Bolton, England. He spoke to The New York Times about his recent success, why microgrooves matter, and what happens when he goes to the carnival dart booth.
The following interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
How did you get involved in darts?
I was 11. My dad was really big into darts. Every time I’d come home from school, instead of going outside and playing football or basketball with my friends, I’d hurry up and get my homework done and sit in the living room and play darts with my dad for hours. It was more just for fun. I didn’t play in tournaments until I was 15, 16 years old.
What was it like, the moment you realized you had made the Tour?
I didn’t know the situation. You advance under a point system or if you win the tournament outright. I thought I had to win outright, because I had zero points after three days. So when I lost, 6-2, in the finals, I didn’t think I was in. I held my head down, and shook hands. Then I looked and saw my manager smiling. At that point I knew I was in.
I wear my emotions on my sleeve, I’m a very emotional player. I kind of just started tearing up and let it go.
What are your goals now that you’re on Tour?
I want to stay on the Tour. I have to finish in the top 64 after two years.
I wouldn’t say I have high expectations, because I know it’s going to be a battle — you’re playing with the best in the world. My expectations are to compete and stay with them, and maybe be lucky enough to win one.
You’ve competed in two world championships. The atmosphere at a big darts event, at least before the pandemic, is remarkable. At the big events in Britain, the fans are raucous and many are drinking. What’s it like to throw darts in front of a crowd like that?
It’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of. They love their darts there.
How much do you practice?
Before I took darts seriously, I kind of relied on my natural hand-eye coordination. When I started taking it seriously, that’s when I started putting the practice in. It went from 30 minutes a day to an hour to now, two to four hours a day.
I focus in practice on scoring power. I try to throw as many trip-20’s, trip-19’s, trip 18’s as I can. That’s my philosophy.
Does every player have a different style, how they stand, how they throw? What’s yours?
Techniques are all over the place. There’s no correct answer. I stand straight up, I might lean in a little. I’m steady and don’t move my body. I hold the dart more toward the front. I have a lot more microgrooves on my dart.
They drill grooves into the barrel of the dart, toward the front. I have more microgrooves than some others do. The groove where I hold my dart is right where the thumb is. If there are no grooves there, like some players have, I feel like it slips on my thumb where I’m resting the dart. The grooves kind of catch my thumb so it doesn’t move and I have more control over it.
I’m the Gambler. Growing up, I loved making crazy bets. flipping a coin, whatever. It stuck. My father died of a heart attack in a casino, and it’s in honor of him as well.
What’s the difference between someone who maybe throws darts at a bar or in their rec room occasionally, and a pro?
The drive and the time you put into the game. A lot of people complain that two, three, four years in, they’re not getting good. I tell them, it took me 26 years. It’s the time and effort you put into it.
What other sports are you a fan of, and are there athletes that you especially admire?
I’m a die-hard Chicago Bulls fan, and a New York Rangers fan from the Mark Messier days. I grew up watching Michael Jordan. His determination, his will to win, his closing ability inspired me.
You mentioned closing. In darts, there are moments when you’ve got to hit the double, and if you miss you’re pretty sure the other guy’s going to win. Is there anything different about those moments?
Absolutely. You can play great, you can play average, but ultimately darts is about timing. If you have the right timing at the right moments. you can win any match. Those are the moments you have to grasp. You can’t be nervous. You can’t be scared. You have to attack. I feel like that’s one of my strongest suits. Mentally, I have that ability to close it out.
I have to ask: Do you ever play those carnival booth darts games?
Of course! I usually try to negotiate with them. I say, I’ll give you 10 bucks, I’ll take nine darts and if I hit all nine balloons, I get the big stuffed animal.
Do they usually agree?