Darts Expert & Columnist
Lisa Ashton's exploits at Q School underlines the growth of the women's game, says Rod Studd
"It's another great step forward for women's darts and the sport of darts in general."
Last Updated: 20/01/20 2:47pm
Lisa Ashton made history by becoming the first woman to win a PDC Tour Card at Qualifying School on Sunday and Sky Sports commentator Rod Studd believes Ashton's exploits further underlines the progress within the women's game.
The four-time women's world champion came within a leg of securing an automatic Tour Card on day two of qualification in Wigan, although 'The Lancashire Rose' still accumulated enough points over the four days of action to secure her place on the PDC Pro Tour for the next two years.
Ashton will not be the first woman to compete on the Pro Tour circuit, with Anastasia Dobromyslova, Deta Hedman, Stacy Bromberg and Tricia Wright having all previously pitted their wits against leading PDC stars, although the 49-year-old is the first woman to gain a Tour Card via Q School.
This is another huge coup for the women's game, which has received unprecedented coverage over the last month as a consequence of Fallon Sherrock's ground-breaking success at Alexandra Palace.
Sherrock became the first female to register a win at the PDC World Championship, following up her victory over Ted Evetts by sensationally dumping out 11th seed Mensur Suljovic, and Studd hopes Ashton's latest achievement can inspire a new generation of female talent.
"It's absolutely fantastic, just brilliant news," Studd told Sky Sports. "It's another great step forward for women's darts and the sport of darts in general, coming hot off the heels of Fallon's wins at the World Championship which gave it all that impetus and Lisa has now backed it up and moved forward.
"I'm really pleased for her because she's been the flag-bearer for women's darts for the past five, six years. I hope it will encourage more women to play the game, more girls to play the game, and hopefully we'll see more coming through off the back of Lisa's achievements."
Studd also highlighted the enviable strength in depth within women's darts at present. During the last month, Mikuru Suzuki retained her women's world title with victory over Ashton, while 16-year-old sensation Beau Greaves performed superbly to reach the semi-finals on debut.
Brilliant for Lisa. Another step forward for women’s darts but certainly not the last step. Women should now have 4 places at the World Championship + 2 at the Grand Slam and it’s absolutely obvious matches between Ashton, Suzuki and Sherrock would be box office games. https://t.co/rynAuifQmU— Rod Studd (@Rod_Studd) January 19, 2020
"I just think it's an exciting time and I haven't even mentioned Mikuru Suzuki and Beau Greaves who was so brilliant in the women's World Championship, so I just think it's a really exciting time for women's darts.
"There's also Lorraine Winstanley, Aileen de Graaf. Maria O'Brien really put it up to Mikuru Suzuki in the first round of the World Championship as well. There's plenty of depth there," added Studd.
Following Sherrock's run to the third round of the PDC World Championship, Studd led the calls for greater investment and opportunities for the women's game - an assertion he believes remains pertinent considering the uncertainty engulfing the British Darts Organisation at present.
"It would be absolutely catastrophic if there weren't opportunities for women to play darts in some way shape or form. We're in a position now where the sport is in an exciting time and there will be more women and girls wanting to play darts and we've got to give them that opportunity.
"I really think the PDC should use some of their enormous prize pot and use it to fund a mini women's tour. If you've got 14 or 15 million pounds at your disposal, I don't really see what the problem is with using £1m of that for the women's tour. I think now is the time to do it.
"I don't think at the moment, you could name a darts match that the general public and darts fans would like to see more than Lisa Ashton against Fallon Sherrock for the undisputed title of 'Queen of Darts'.
"I think if we can get an eight-woman event, maybe three or four of those and make some progress from there. I think we should probably be inviting more women to the World Championship now, certainly the two we're inviting already, maybe four now," said the Sky Sports commentator.
There have been questions surrounding the credibility of women competing in a separate women's tour while still being afforded opportunities to compete in televised PDC events, although Studd cites the example of the PGA Tour in maximising opportunities for growth.
"People have said well how can they play in both tours? The world's best golfers can play on the PGA Tour and still dip into the European Tour and play all around the globe. You can be a member of more than one golf tour so I don't see why you shouldn't be a member of more than one darts tour?
"I know not everyone agrees with that, people argue that they should earn their spots in qualification but I think we've seen the benefit of getting women into the World Championship. Fallon Sherrock's story got darts - not just women's darts - publicity that we've never seen before.
"Good Morning Britain, Radio 5 Live, New York Times, Billie Jean King's tweets. We've never had that before, particularly globally. That was all off the back of people being progressive and saying let's get women involved."
Ashton will enjoy her first taste of Pro Tour action when the first Players Championship double-header takes place in Barnsley on February 8-9 and she will feature in March's UK Open at Minehead, with all 128 Tour Card holders assured of a spot in the 'FA Cup of Darts'.
'The Lancashire Rose' will have to produce the goods on the Pro Tour if she harbours aspirations of qualifying for events such as the World Matchplay and World Grand Prix, but Studd hopes the PDC continue to provide women with the platform to showcase their ability in the televised arena.
"Lisa is under no illusions and her management team are under no illusions that this is where it's going to get really tough for her now. It's up a level from what she's just been playing there and it's relentless that tour, it is brutal.
"I'm sure the PDC will look at putting Lisa into events. We know she will be on TV at the UK Open as all Tour-Card holders get into that, but anything else she will have to earn by right on the tour.
"She could be invited into invitational events like the World Series, so it will be interesting to see what happens when the Grand Slam comes along, how the PDC look at inviting players. I hope that they continue to invite women players into that because Mikuru and Lisa added something to that in Wolverhampton."
Coverage of the Premier League gets underway on Thursday, February 6 in Aberdeen at 7pm on Sky Sports Action with newly-crowned world champion Peter Wright going up against Michael van Gerwen. Gary Anderson and 'Challenger' John Henderson also take to the stage.