Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Dan Plan

A few weeks ago, I stumbled on The Dan Plan (excellent CBS Morning Show segment here) and was instantly hooked. Portland, Oregon resident, Dan McLaughlin, quit his job in April 2010 so that he could work on his golf game with the ultimate goal of earning a spot on the PGA Tour. Sure, that sounds cool enough, but what pushes it beyond thunderdome is that he had virtually no experience with golf beforehand. Living off of the $100k he had saved from his job, along with minor donations from followers on his site, Dan spends 30+ hours a week practicing/playing golf, ultimately aiming to make the Tour by the 10,000 hour mark (a duration of 6 years). As of this writing, he has roughly 7,000 hours remaining in The Plan and has dropped his handicap to 6.1.

A potential dark cloud on the horizon, however, is that apparently his savings nest egg has been burning faster than he originally planned. Last I saw, he thinks he has enough money to get through at least one more year with no problem, but given that he’s only 2 years into this, seems like he’ll have to come up with a solution fairly soon to see this thing through within the originally planned timeframe.

So, given all that, what are his odds of actually making the Tour? Can he do it? And within 10k hours?

My take: Dan appears to be working his tail off trying to improve his game, and he has made a significant amount of progress in just two years. Coming from having never played golf to a 6.1 handicap is tremendous. He obviously has massive amounts of determination, and has arranged his lifestyle around this single pursuit (as the video said, he only has two pairs of pants). That's fantastic. I’m also on board with the idea that "talent" (circumstantial genetics) is overrated, at least with the game of golf, and that making the Tour is actually possible for a lot of people via nothing but extended, focused practice. So, do I think he can do it? Yes… BUT… there are two critical resources I think he'll need more of to make this dream a reality: money and time.

This dwindling funds issue could be a big showstopper if he doesn’t start addressing it now. He has mentioned ideas of starting a Kickstarter campaign, but I have my doubts that would raise the amount of money really needed. Seems like at least a part-time job is almost unavoidable at some point in the next year or two, as much as he might not want to face that prospect. This will no doubt slow the rate of progress, as that's 20ish hours less per week to spend focused on golf. Which leads to my next point:

Even if money weren't an issue, I still think 6 years from zero to hero is just not enough time. If "success" is becoming a PGA Tour rookie, then consider how many years it took for an average PGA Tour rookie to make the Tour. 10-15? Maybe more? How many hours of deliberate practice? Napkin math says 20 hours a week for 10 years gives you 10k hours, but I suspect 20 is a low weekly estimate. Eg, as a golfer nears PGA Tour rookie status, I'd think hours per week starts approaching 40... especially for the mini tour circuit (eg Gateway) and level (and how many years are spent at those levels by average PGA Tour rookies before reaching the PGA Tour?).

Maybe this is too conservative, but I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up being the case that, if Dan does eventually reach the PGA Tour, the first HALF of his training years will have been spent lowering his handicap (like he's currently doing) with the second half having been time spent playing tournaments in the minor leagues. Any chance Dan will be playing mini tours by the 5k-hour mark? You can technically start entering these tourneys once you get below a 2ish handicap, so I suppose he has a chance. But then to get from there to the PGA Tour in 3ish years? And what about all of those intangible non-practice hours (the ones outside the 10k number)? Don’t they carry some importance? How many more of those would be needed beyond what could be crammed in the originally planned 6 years?

I would think a more realistic approach (one with a higher probability of success) would be to, as I said, 1) get a part-time job to have a steady income stream and take care of the money issue and 2) be prepared (mentally, financially, otherwise) to train for a longer time than originally planned. Even if it took him 15 years to make the Tour, that's still a fantastic story (book deal, eh?). How many 45-year old Tour rookies have there been?

Best of luck to Dan. It’d be great to see him succeed.


  1. Some other interesting opinions at The Sand Trap.

  2. Derek,

    Got here via the Sand Trap forums and the post about The Dan Plan. I think you might be able to help me with my blog on my quest to break 100.

    I read your post about the practice game (hit 5-10 balls and then pick them up) and I'm excited to try that out in the coming days.

    - gibs

    1. gibs, thanks for stopping in. Where's your blog? The link you posted just sends me back here.

      Breaking 100 is a noble quest. Let's see which one of us gets there first :)