Ashton relishing ‘new chapter’ amid worrying times for BDO

Lisa Ashton became the first woman to win a PDC Tour Card via Qualifying School earlier this month and the four-time women’s world champion believes this new chapter in her career comes at the perfect time, given the uncertainty surrounding the future of the British Darts Organisation.

Ashton missed out on a Tour Card by a solitary point in 2019, although ‘The Lancashire Rose’ avenged that disappointment by claiming the 12th and final spot via the UK Qualifying School Order of Merit in Wigan, having missed out on an automatic place by one leg on the second day of action.

The 49-year-old will not be the first woman to compete on the PDC Pro Tour, with Deta Hedman, Anastasia Dobromyslova, Stacy Bromberg and Tricia Wright among those to pit their wits against the PDC’s elite since the new millennium, although Ashton is the first to progress via the Q-School route.

Ashton, who has featured at the PDC World Championship and the Grand Slam of Darts during the last 18 months, reached her sixth BDO World Championship final just over a fortnight ago, although she was denied a fifth triumph by reigning champion Mikuru Suzuki.

The tournament took place at the Indigo – a complex within the O2 Arena, although the flagship competition was marred by controversy surrounding the prize money and Ashton concedes that her departure from the BDO arguably comes at the perfect time.

“With the BDO there is plenty of worrying times,” Ashton told the Josh’s Dartistry Podcast. “We don’t know if tournaments are going ahead. There is some secured but we don’t know if the rest of them are secured so you can’t plan ahead.

“You don’t really know what to do or where to go, as well as this new World Darts Federation {WDF]- we’re still not sure about what that entails, so now for me getting this Tour Card, I am going to miss being on the circuit with the ladies, but this is a new chapter and this is an opportunity for me now.

“I’ve got to go and do what I need to do for myself, because you don’t know what is ahead in the BDO. To be the first lady to get a Tour Card and to enter a new chapter going into the PDC tournaments, it’s definitely right up there with my World Championships.”

Ashton faced an agonising wait to discover whether she had done enough to clinch a Tour Card. Successive second-round exits on the final two days of action saw her finish the four-day event with nine points, but fate conspired in her favour on this occasion, following last year’s misfortune.

“I was one point away last year, one leg away on the second day. I just thought to myself: ‘Look, if I can do it that day, surely I can do it another day’ and it put me with loads of points, so I just thought two more good days and you should definitely get a Tour Card.

“I knew it had to rest on a lot of the other games. People were saying to me, ‘Ah yes you’re there, ‘Oh I don’t know’. I just said to everybody: ‘Don’t tell me, I’m just going to carry on supporting the rest of the guys I’m with and just tell me at the end if it’s yes or no.

“It was the longest two and a half hours of my life I think, just waiting to see if I had got through or not. It’s been a bit hectic. I think in a few days it might sink in then,” added the four-time women’s world champion.

Ashton’s exploits maintain the remarkable momentum that’s been generated within the women’s game over recent weeks. Fallon Sherrock created unprecedented headlines in the global media last month, becoming the first woman to register victory at the PDC World Championship.

Mikuru Suzuki also came within one leg of achieving the feat prior to Sherrock’s success and although Ashton’s exploits may not have generated the same coverage due to the profile of the respective events, her accomplishments are by no means less significant.

“Fallon doing what she did at the World Championships, me getting a Tour Card – it just shows how high the ladies game is improving and it’s still improving. We’re slowly coming through now and ladies darts is in the best place ever. It’s just put ladies darts on the top as well as darts in general.”

Ashton’s assertion is illustrated by the growing female presence at Qualifying School this year. Last year there were eight female entrants, although that tally was doubled this year, as a host of the leading women’s players took the plunge in a bid to claim a coveted two-year Tour Card.

“It’s inspiring them all. This year at Q-School we had 16 ladies enter. That’s double from last year so hopefully with Fallon opening the door in the World Championships, I’ve opened it with Q-School, Mikuru [Suzuki] has opened it – she only missed out by one double in the worlds too.

“It’s just opened the door and showing more ladies can enter, it does work and we can get through, so hopefully it inspires more to enter and they can get through like I did.”

Sky Sports commentator Rod Studd has led the calls for the PDC to capitalise on the growth of the women’s game by implementing a PDC women’s tour and Ashton believes that is a concept that her female colleagues would unanimously support.

“That’s what we are fighting for, to see if the PDC are interested. They are taking note now, we just hope in time to come they do a ladies tour and we would definitely all be interested in it,” Ashton continued.

“All the ladies will say we do always play better against the men because we know we have to. Playing Q-School and Challenge Tour like I did last year, that was just to improve my game and see how far I could push myself.

“Now I’ve got the opportunity of playing the world’s best, if I can raise my game even more now which I know I have to, hopefully it helps me improve a lot more.”

The 49-year-old will experience her first taste of PDC Pro Tour action in just over a week’s time, as she features in the first Players Championship double-header of the new decade at the Barnsley Metrodome on February 8 and 9.

The reigning World Masters champion insists she’ll be focusing on one game and tournament at a time, although she reveals she’s targeting Alexandra Palace qualification via the Pro Tour Order of Merit, which could see a record three women competing in the 2021 PDC World Championship.

“I’m hoping I can try and get into the World Championships hopefully through the Tour Card, so then it will put three ladies in it. It creates the opportunity for two others to qualify and I could qualify through my Tour Card.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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