As a child I can remember wanting to be a professional baseball player. My mom told me that being a professional athlete was hard. Really hard. She told me to imagine filling a football stadium full of kids my age, and then selecting the one kid who was going to be a professional baseball player. The rest of us… we were going to be doing something else.
Dear mom was merely helping me set proper expectations. I know it is unpopular now to tell your kids that they can’t achieve their dreams. I see other parents telling their children that they can do anything they put their mind to. I get it. We are supposed to be supportive. Trophies for everyone!
You can read on the TST forum around once month some young kid will come on saying he wants to be a professional golfer. Most people say “follow your dreams,” some will say “good luck,” and one or two members will say something similar to what my mom said. A few years ago someone recommended to one of these hopeful people that they read The Talent Code. So I did. The author suggests that greatness isn’t born, but rather expertise is earned through hard work. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
So when I first heard about the The Dan Plan, I was immediately attracted to the idea. One of the main tenants of The Talent Code is the ten thousand hour theory. Dan was going to test it. Perfect.
As Dan started, I followed dutifully. I read every blog post and followed his every move. He made movies, and I watched all of them. He did an interview, and I read it. I studied him intently. In a way, he was living a dream that I myself would have loved to try.
But after a few months and watching him on his journey I began to question what he was doing. Learning the game myself I saw him making some of the mistakes that I had made when I was first learning the game. This is was extremely concerning because as anyone in golf will tell you, once you start making mistakes and ingraining them into your muscle memory it is going to take you double the time to unlearn it and put the right stuff in there.
He started bouncing around instructors and posting swings that looked like he was not progressing as I would have hoped. Then as I looked deeper I could not find any information on what he was doing for deliberate practice. Some gym work, hitting balls, but nothing specific about what his practice routine was. I began to become disenfranchised.
As an engineer I felt his process for improving was a mess. I began to worry that at the conclusion of the Dan Plan were not going to be able to determine anything about the ten-thousand-hour theory. No conclusion, nothing. The investment of my time to follow him was going to be wasted.
During this time I moved to the Portland area and got the chance to interview Dan. I learned a few things during that interview. One, Dan is a really nice guy. Two, Dan is an artist by trade, and views the world differently than me. He really viewed the Dan Plan as a “meta” experience. Three, he was not going to a professional golfer if he didn’t seek a knowledgeable person, and would probably not even wind up a better golfer than me. That last thing I kept to myself until just now.
Oh, Dan had the chance to surpass me. But he would have needed to do it under the watchful eye of someone smart. Someone who could, every day, teach him the things he needed to work on to get better. Sadly in golf the number of such people is pretty small. Yes, there are thousands of teaching professionals, but most of them are not the smart ones I am talking about. This is of the major problems facing golf right now. In order to grow the game it must be addressed. The golfing bodies that be want to regulate how you hold your putter, roll back the ball, these things are focused on the wrong thing. Improve golf instruction, so people get better faster. Use the knowledge of the smart people who are out there and change the way golf professionals are taught. Stop making them take classes on how to fold a shirt in the pro shop and start teaching them to make golfers get better faster.
In fairness, I see some steps in the right direction. But more progress must be made.
Now we have learned that the Dan Plan is over. Dan has moved on to selling soda. Fine. He needs to make a living. Go forth and be happy.
But if Dan leaves his “Plan” like it is now, we’ve gained nothing. We don’t know anything more about the ten-thousand-hour theory than we did before. I doubt Dan will do any kind of post-mortem as it really isn’t his style. He will say that he wants to focus on the positive and to keep looking forward. But, in failing, I believe that Dan has brought one of the major problems facing golf to the forefront. How people learn to play the game is broken and it needs to be fixed.
Photo credits: © Angus Murray