It’s the same old story: like many aspiring athletes, Dan McLaughlin made his living photographing dental equipment. Then predictably the Portland, Oregon resident tried to launch a sparkling water company before deciding to practice golf – full-time – for 10,000 hours.
Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson posited the idea that a person can achieve expert-level precision in a given field after 10,000 hours of narrowly focused practice. Malcolm Gladwell popularized Ericsson’s work in his book Outliers. McLaughlin decided to test the theory through golf with the goal of playing on the PGA Tour.
McLaughlin had never played a full 18 holes of golf before beginning his experiment, but he still selected the sport for an experiment that will take approximately six years.
“I had no experience with it,” McLaughlin said. “I had just kind of looked at different aspects of life, and golf seemed to fit really well, and it was completely different than anything I had ever done before. It was a mix of physical and mental abilities, you can track it very easily through an international handicap system. It’s pretty much impossible to make it to the top, but it’s theoretically possible.”McLaughlin found a coach who was willing to oversee the undertaking and began his quest in April 2010. Bastable said that there were many aspects of the plan that surprised him.
“The first thing was probably the fact that he literally only had one club, which was his putter, for the first five or six months,” Bastable said. “Any golfer could tell you that it can get a little boring out there practicing with a full set, let alone one club.”
To date, McLaughlin has rolled more than 160,000 putts and hit more than 250,000 shots total. At the current pace, it will take McLaughlin roughly four more years to reach the 10,000-hour mark. McLaughlin is focused, but he hasn’t always been that way. In the past, he switched colleges and jobs, and dropped out of business school after just one class. The 32-year-old says this is a project he’ll see through to the end.
“Throughout my entire life I’ve done different pursuits, and as soon as I see that it’s an easy thing to accomplish, I lose interest,” McLaughlin said. “The one difference with golf is that I don’t think anybody ever gets to a point where they can just assume or know that they’re going to be good at the sport. It’s a constant struggle.
“My ultimate goal is to play on a PGA Tour event, make the cut, and play on the weekend. And the goal of the project is just to show people what’s possible just with hard work, kind of refute this idea of talent, and hopefully inspire a lot of people to just follow the deep-seeded passion that they’ve had their whole life.”
After spending time with McLaughlin, studying his routines, and playing a round with him, Bastable still isn’t sure the practice will pay off with a PGA Tour appearance.
“Most golf people will tell you that you can get down to ‘scratch’ or even a minus handicap, but there’s still this innate ability that only … a few hundred golfers have on the planet,” Bastable said. “Much as I love Dan, the notion that he could contend on the PGA Tour is a little far fetched.”