A FORMER professional pool player turned sports photographer hopes to make it big in the darts world after inventing a unique way for players to improve their game.
Mark Stephenson, from Malvern, has developed a set of five practice rings that claim to sharpen accuracy and consistency.
Differing in size, each ring enables a player to focus on a specific target area of the board in order to improve aim.
Such has been their impact among players that five-time world champion Eric Bristow has put his name to them and several companies have shown interest in selling the rings. Stephenson, who specialises in snooker photography, took up darts after retiring from a career in eight-ball pool which saw him represent New Zealand, where his father was born, for five years as well as being Worcestershire captain.
The 45-year-old, who plays darts at the Foresters Arms in Barnards Green, came up with the idea for the rings after growing disillusioned at not being able to better his own game.
He said: “While struggling to play darts, scoring 100 and then 21, I was getting really frustrated and kept putting the darts away.
“I sat there one day and thought there has to be a better and more fun way to learn to play darts and this is when I came up with the idea of the darts practice rings.
“I started to develop the rings, had some samples made and started using them and the results were amazing.”
The rings, which pin to the board, vary in size depending on player ability and also come with progress charts to measure improvement as well as a number of practice routine games.
Bristow, known as the Crafty Cockney, said: “I’m delighted to be involved with this new concept.
“They really do work and it’s a fun way to learn to play for any standard of player.
“I think they will revolutionise the way darts is practiced and played in the future.”
Family friend Joe Endacott, who plays football for Malvern Town, helped test the rings and added: “I could not believe the difference they were making to my game. I noticed my grouping and actual aiming were getting so much better.
“I have had more 180s in the last three weeks than in the last six years of playing.”