Wide-eyed in New York: Luke Littler is living the American dream

<span>Luke Littler says he is ‘just a 17-year-old boy enjoying his darts’ ahead of his appearance in the US Darts Masters.</span><span>Photo: Emma Wannie/MSG Entertainment</span>” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/xKuMXOK0Jpcjv2cGn7Myeg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/f4d4e48fa298d51622ba2 c312aefc401″ data-src= “https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/xKuMXOK0Jpcjv2cGn7Myeg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/f4d4e48fa298d51622ba2c312 aefc401″/><button class=

Luke Littler says he was ‘just a 17-year-old boy enjoying his darts’ before competing in the US Darts Masters.Photo: Emma Wannie/MSG Entertainment

Five days after winning the Premier League Darts title by beating world number 1 Luke Humphries with a sensational nine-darter in front of a crowd of 14,000 roaring spectators at the London O2 Arena, Luke Littler had to deal with a much less forgiving opponent on Tuesday afternoon: the busy rush hour in Manhattan.

A full day of media coverage in New York City to promote this weekend’s US Darts Masters at Madison Square Garden has been derailed after the hired driver of Littler’s black Cadillac Escalade ESV went to the wrong location for a live studio performance on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour podcast, leaving the show’s genius host treading water on air. When he finally arrives at the Financial District office nearly 40 minutes late, the 17-year-old sensation known as Luke the Nuke calmly slips into his chair on set while an entourage including his parents, girlfriend and best friend , invades the green room to Look, they all learn the same lesson that every New York neophyte absorbs early on: the subway is always faster.

Related: Luke Littler conquers the Premier League Darts title with nine-dart joy

Although jet-lagged, but already warming up, Littler spends half an hour with Helwani, the popular fighting expert who has become a darts fan in the past year. He blasts everything from Nando’s (“overrated”) to his beloved Manchester United (“Ten Hag deserves another season”). He teases a newcomer to influencer boxing, even calls out a TikToker named Beavo who swallows potatoes whole on camera, and has a great time with Helwani’s fantastic pitch of a one-off, made-for-Netflix match against Phil Taylor, the 63- year-old darts legend who Littler describes as his sports idol. We’re at the penultimate stop of a grueling day of press engagements that started with a CNN hit at 8 a.m., followed by a photo shoot with Flaunt Magazine and a press conference at MSG, with a visit to the Bleacher Report offices downtown to follow before Barstool and WWE on Thursday.

Until Wednesday’s transpo failure, Littler’s first-ever trip to New York had gone off without a hitch. Since landing at JFK from Manchester on Monday afternoon, he has made himself at home in the Times Square Renaissance hotel, a short walk from the Garden. As we chat between stops during Wednesday’s marathon, the Warrington resident offers heartfelt praise for New York’s culinary scene – McDonald’s, Wendy’s and 99 Cent Fresh Pizza are his three favorite meals since arriving – as he reflects on a full day of sightseeing on Tuesday, including stops at the Brooklyn Bridge, the Twin Towers Monument, and the USS Intrepid. “For many people it is once in a lifetime,” says Littler. “It’s like being here and seeing the Statue of Liberty and all these other things. It’s just a big dream come true for me.”

That dream continues from Friday evening when Littler makes his US debut at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, starring in a star-studded field of 16 players including Humphries, reigning champion Michael van Gerwen and former world champions Peter Wright, Gerwyn Price and Rob Cross. . “It’s just crazy to think of the other athletes who have played here,” he says, listing two of his favorites: Conor McGregor and Anthony Joshua, despite the disparate results.

It’s been a year in the life of Littler, who started playing when he was 18 months old on a board his father bought in a pound shop. This time last May he was still at secondary school at Padgate Academy in the city halfway between Merseyside and Greater Manchester, where he grew up and still lives. But he rocketed into the stratosphere of British sporting consciousness on his World Championship debut at Christmas with a fairytale run to the final at Alexandra Palace, having since climbed to 25th in the Professional Darts Corporation world rankings. Even before last Thursday’s thrilling victory for the Premier League crown – where he defeated the rival who beat him in December, became the youngest person ever to win a major and collected the £275,000 ($350,450) winner’s purse – Littler is frontman and become a center for the promotion of the sport. The breathless hype seems to be doubling by the day: Matchroom supremo Barry Hearn, classically understated as ever, described him earlier this week as ‘the British version of Tiger Woods’.

Littler’s domestic celebrity has led to reports that organizers could take the once unthinkable step by relocating the old world championship venue to the Ally Pally – the 3,200-capacity venue in north London that is believed to be the home of the sports – to move to a larger space to meet demand. . Not only would Littler embrace the change, he tells me, but he would go even further. “Imagine going to Saudi Arabia to play darts?” he says with a smile. ‘I know we went to Bahrain [for a January event], but just think of a world championship in Saudi Arabia.” When asked whether he feels any responsibility to grow the game beyond its British base, Littler toes the line of the company. “The PDC will obviously change things if they want to,” he says. “If they get the numbers abroad and anywhere else, they will do what is best for the sport. And I am sure players will follow whatever direction they choose.”

The grind of the Premier League circuit – one PDC flack described it to me as a rock tour that took place over 17 consecutive Thursdays from February to May – has taken its toll on Littler, who says the biggest challenge is getting used to the exhausting travel demands. The same goes for days like Wednesday, which have become increasingly common as the organization looks to capitalize on its popularity.

There is an easy silence and calm about Littler that may do him a disservice in today’s screaming news economy, but which on the oche seems to be his most prized asset and the basis of his extraordinary courage. When asked if he has developed any routines or superstitions to ensure confidence and focus, Littler offers a routine of remarkable simplicity. (“I just do what I do,” he says. “Just get in the zone.”) It’s reminiscent of what David Foster Wallace noted thirty years ago about the genius of elite athletes: “The real, much-disguised answer to the De The question is what exactly goes through the mind of a great player when he stands in the midst of the noise of the hostile crowd and sets up the free throw that will decide whether the game could end: nothing at all.”

After his Garden debut, which concluded with Saturday night’s semi-final and final rounds, a long-awaited holiday awaits. Littler and co light up at the mention of his fourth visit to Orlando – where he first traveled for Wrestlemania 33 in 2017 as an impressionable tween – before a return trip to Universal Studios and a long-awaited first trip to Disney World. Then it’s back to work with fast approaching dates in Poland and France on the cards. Heavy lifting, no doubt, but it’s better than working.

“I just take everything in stride,” he says. “I’m just a seventeen-year-old boy who enjoys his darts.”

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