My Thoughts on The Dan Plan

Dan is trying to become a professional golfer, does he have any chance?

Thrash TalkI was first turned on to the The Dan Plan by a friend of mine who is a member at the same club Dan has been using for his practice sessions. He did not provide me much detail so I looked him up on the web. He has a blog and a video diary which for the most part I have been keeping up to date on.

For those of you who don’t know Dan has given up his regular day job to test the theory that after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice one can achieve an elite level within that given activity. The 10,000 hour number came from Anders Ericsson and was then popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. Dan had never picked up a club prior to this endeavor and has aspirations of becoming a touring pro after 10,000 hours of dedicated practice.

Most people, mostly golfers, respond to this news with this guy is out of his mind. They think that he has no idea what he is up against and simply blow him off. My initial response was somewhat similar. Although I read Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin and have somewhat bought into the idea that there is not a true definition of talent, still I am quite skeptical that someone can do this starting in their 30s. More on my opinion later.

Dan seems like a very pleasant guy, and I think he has taken much of the criticism thrown at him very well. He is currently just over 3,000 hours into his 10,000. He has done those 3,000 hours in a little over two years, so he is spacing it out over a good amount of time as not to burn himself out. After those 3,000 hours he is about an 8 handicap and has already broken 80. Some have argued even with these accomplishments he is still WAY behind where he should be at this point to make his goal of being a touring pro. Certainly no one would argue he has a long way to go.

The main area he takes criticism over is his ultimate goal of becoming a touring pro. He is attempting essentially to become golf royalty. As a person who does marketing for a living I fully understand why he had to make playing professional golf his goal. If he had advertised to the Golf Channel that he was going to take 5 years off of work, play golf for 10,000 hours and become a scratch golfer most likely they would have said “who cares?” He needed a hook, something to entice viewers, readers, and ultimately folks who could potentially be donors to help his cause. In my opinion he had no other option but to claim this.

Dan McLaughlin

I also feel he has gone about this all the wrong way. He started working on two-foot putts and worked his way away from the hole. From putting to chipping, chipping to pitching on his way to full swings. As suggested in this thread, we should focus our practice 65/25/10 with the 65 percent focused on the long game. Currently he is 65 percent on putting. I just think there is so much more gained by working on his long game then spending so much time working on putting. I respect the discipline he used to continue with the plan he had set forth for himself but I think he is going about it all the wrong way. To be fair though I am not a cognitive learning expert, so maybe he had studied this and he felt this was the best route to reach his 10,000 hour goal.

I also think that golf is a skill which is best learned while we are young. I think this goes for most sports. It is rare to find a soccer player who started playing in their late teens and went on to become a world class player. The skill is best learned young and then refined as you get older. Certainly golf has more stories where a person can start in their 20s and still become a professional but they are not the norm. The typical golfing superstar learned the game very young and strengthened that skill as they became older. For me, this is the single biggest reason I think Dan will not succeed as a touring professional. He just started too late.

At the end of this I suspect Dan will be a very good golfer. I predicted to my friend that he would be a +1 maybe even a +2 golfer. So a very refined golfer who could compete in local amateur events, state amateur events, and maybe even give a go at the US Mid-Am, but he will be a far cry from the PGA Tour. I only wish him the best, I must admit that I am a bit jealous of someone who gets to play everyday as his job.

Photo credits: © Angus Murray.

15 thoughts on “My Thoughts on The Dan Plan”

  1. Michael, I’m an “interested skeptic”, as well. I stumbled onto Dan’s site a few weeks ago and actually wrote a post a few days ago w/ my own thoughts on his project at my blog (apologies for the bald-faced plug). My take is that his biggest immediate enemy is (lack of) money. But definitely working hard… his handicap keeps on falling (currently at 5.9). It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

  2. Good unbiased article. Dan assumes becoming a touring pro is about hard work and proper training but IMO doesn’t place sufficient value on natural ability. Time will tell if hard work and training is enough.

    I wish him the best, but like you don’t see him making it as a tour pro. I’m also jealous that he was able to call a time out on real life and gets to spend so much time playing golf.

  3. “PUT YOUR MIND TO IT AND ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING” This goes for Dan and everyone else. I bet Dan will make at least a minimum of one PGA tour events at the end of his 10,000 hours.

  4. Word to the wise, don’t claim you can become a PGA professional or people will call you a complete idiot. I know this from experience. A month ago I had a similar post in the forums that given five years and unlimited funds, I myself could make the tour. Of course everyone comes at me with smart comments about how I’m way off base to make such statement.

    I would love to be able to afford a break from my career and try to make the tour. I do believe I can make the tour at minimum if given these same parameters. I also think there are hundreds of others who could do the same. The PRO’s are the best of the best and I’m not trying to cheapen their accomplishments… however, there is loads of talent out there waiting to have the right doors open for them. There are tons of guys who have careers, families, financial difficulties, etc. and will never have the opportunity to maximize their talents to their full potential.

    I hope Dan succeeds, I hope he takes advantage of an opportunity that most of us can only dream about. Hell, I’m jealous!!

  5. To be more accurate, Dan’s stated goal is to make the cut in a PGA event. This was his position a year into his experiment – if his goal was different prior to starting, I can’t find a direct quote from him saying otherwise, though there are plenty of writers who have taken creative liberties summarizing his plan.

    +1/+2 seems doable, but who knows? Personally, I think he’ll need to be ~+4 and be given plenty of opportunities if he wants to make a cut. At +2, maybe he can make it through Q-school (another stated goal of his), but again, he may need a few tries to do that, if at all.

    In Ericsson’s study, he concluded that there were virtually no exceptions to the 10,000 ‘rule’. That’s what Dan is banking on, really.

    I think many people, especially golfers, are missing an important point in Dan’s experiment, to wit: Dan is trying to qualify Ericsson’s position, and he just happened to choose golf to do it. It could have been any endeavor….experts within that field, especially if it was a sport, would have been detractors. If you tell a Grand Master that a 30 year old who’s never played chess wants to compete on the world stage within six years, he’d throw his queen at you. Ericsson would have said that was not only possible, but probable given the parameters of his study.

  6. More Power to the guy! I hope it is possible. Although I do think the odds are stacked against him. The years of competitive play is what separates a pro from an ordinary scratch golfer. They have been in pressure situations many times and came out victorious. Thats why they are on the tour.

  7. I have been following Dan for about 2 years now and its been amazing to see the improvements in his game. I personally think that 10,000 hours is a bench mark that gives you a goal to strive for. I don’t think that you really need to hit 10,000 hours but the idea of working on a consistent basis will get him to where he needs to be. I have talked about The Dan Plan a ton on my blog. My Blog I think he will eventually get to where he needs to be and I look forward to following him

  8. I think blowing this guy off is absurd. First of all, someone who is giving up a successful career to fulfill his dream should be something we are all envious of. Thats what we should all be doing.
    If he is willing to spend that much time to become good, why would you want to tear him down? That 3000 is hours is probably more hours of golf than most people on this website.
    He is already a +8 golfer after two years? That is awesome. I bet he will be around -5 or better golfer at the end of his 10,000 hours. Hopefully he proves all of his neighsayers wrong. I support this guy 100%.


  9. 10,000 hours of practice is a lot of hours. He will definitely improve as he spends more time on his game. I just read John Feinstein’s book Tales from Q School: Inside Golf’s Fifth Major (a good book for people into pro golf). There’s a lot of talent there, and it takes a little good luck to make it through. Will Dan make it? Nobody knows, but it will be interesting to see.

  10. Given athletic ability, it is entirely possible that he may have the numbers in in his regular rounds to turn professional. The problem is, I think he is forgetting to consider ‘tournament nerves’. Playing with other pro’s, with galleries watching and cameras focused at every angle, is a far different animal than playing a course with your buddies, on a quiet and serene, sunny day.

  11. I just can’t believe how everyone believes that as a 5.9 Dan is on track at 3000 hours to end up a plus handicap golfer.

    Did I seriously read above that someone has him projected at a – 10 (from a -8).. ?!

    Improvement is not linear, the closer that handicap gets to 0 the harder it gets to move it. There are a lot of really talented golfers out there around scratch that can not get to a plus handicap no matter how much they practice. Why would Dan be any different?

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