“The Dan Plan”: 10,000 Hours to Golf Excellence


Written by Kaitlyn Rentala, Rye NY

It’s 2010. Dan McLaughlin is a 30-year-old commercial photographer. He’s not a particularly fit man–slightly under the average weight and height for a typical man.

He quit his job and dedicated all of his time and money to becoming a professional golfer. Why? It wasn’t because he had a passion for golfing. It was to test a theory.

TheDanPlan3-Book-e1377592154966It started after McLaughlin read the bestseller book, Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell. The book includes a particularly fascinating topic: the 10,000 hour rule. According to Gladwell, “the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.”

The 10,000 hour rule was first researched by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson who, with other researchers, came to the conclusion that to become an expert you must put in at least 10,000 hours of work. McLaughlin plans to test this theory by playing 10,000 hours of golf with the hope that, after he puts in those hours, he’ll be an expert in golf.

McLaughlin calls it “THE DAN PLAN.”

Working in Dan’s favor is one of Gladwell’s findings: the 10,000 hour rule applies in cognitive fields. Golf is a much more of a cognitive sport than some other sports, such as track and swimming. It’s easier to excel in golf vis-a-vis other sports—where having physical attributes is an advantage, such as the length of your arms.

Courtesy: golfwrx.com-

Courtesy: golfwrx.com-

However, The Dan Plan doesn’t necessarily fit all of the requirements of the 10,000 hour rule. McLaughlin started out his challenge at an older age than most aspiring pro golfers. And Dan won’t be an expert as soon as he hits the 10,000 hour mark. Gladwell says that experts have a minimum of 10,000 hours. A combination of circumstance, hard work, diligence, and talent are all necessary to become elite in any domain.

But David Epstein, a Sports Illustrated reporter and author of the book The Sports Gene, makes the point that innate talent is what separates good from elite. If Epstein is right, the golf may not be the best field for Dan to test Gladwell’s theory.

Either way, McLaughlin is on course…so to speak. He started on April 5, 2010. On April 12, 2012, he shot an 86 in his first tournament. And, after roughly 4,500 hours, McLaughlin hit another important mark–recording a single-digit handicap.

Courtesy: thedanplan.com

Courtesy: thedanplan.com

McLaughlin is set to finish in 2016 with the hope to turn pro.

While McLaughlin’s goal is to test Gladwell’s theory, he’s doing something else, too: he’s inspiring thousands of people. He’s already done that—whether he succeeds as a pro or not.

NOTE: Read more about The Dan Plan—and see a video about it—at The Dan Plan website.




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