Practice Builds Your Mental Golf Game

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Practice Builds Your Mental Golf Game

Have you heard of Dan McLaughlin? He’s not a pro, well, at least not yet. He’s an ordinary guy who is going to tackle the odds by going from zero to proffesional golfer in a few years. What’s his secret? It’s no secret… It’s practice. The only difference is that he’s going to practice A LOT. A whopping 10,000 hours of practice. I think he can do it. Why? Because practice builds your mental golf game.

The key to playing great golf is to master your mental game. Practicing shows you how good your skills really are. Imagine the confidence boost you’ll get by putting the ball right into the hole 20 times in a row (a tactic used by a pro golfer). Rick Lipsey, writer for Sports Illustrated (Golf Plus), has more on McLaughlin’s journey:

Dan McLaughlin, a 32-year-old bachelor from Portland, Ore., is trying to go from never having touched a golf club to the PGA Tour. The time frame of McLaughlin’s journey from ground zero to the Tour is about six years, the amount of time it will take him to accrue 10,000 hours of dedicated practice,  with practicing golf being his full-time avocation. He calls this the Dan Plan. But why 10,000 hours?

Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a psychology professor at Florida State. Ericsson claims that excellence in any discipline is dependent on dedication, not talent, and that it takes about 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to excel in a field, a theory that gained widespread exposure after it was featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book Outliers. McLaughlin began his quest in April 2010, and so far he’s completed 2,300 hours. He expects to reach 10,000 hours by the end of 2016.

Has the novelty of your grand experiment worn off?
It’s been 20 months, so this is what I do now. I didn’t start playing golf, I mean playing rounds on a course, until August. Now that I finally get to place my ball on those little white tees, I’m much more into it.
Was it hard to wait that long to play?
It was and it wasn’t. Because I’d never played before, I didn’t know what I was missing. That’s why it wasn’t so hard to hold back on touching a driver for 19 months. Having never done it, I didn’t have anything to wish I could be doing. My practice routine, to me, was golf.

Now that you’ve played rounds and hit drivers, what’s it feel like?  
Judging from a few days of hitting a driver, the only thing close to a really nice drive is sinking a 40-foot putt. A great drive is unparalleled.

What’s playing a round like?
There are huge ups and downs. Hitting good shots is incredible, but once you start hitting into trees, it can be the most infuriating and frustrating game on the planet. For me, it adds so much to my weekly and daily routines to field-test myself and see how what I’ve been doing has paid off. So it’s rewarding in that way.
What were you doing before you had the idea for the Dan Plan?
After graduating from the University of Georgia, I became a journalist. I was a photographer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press for two years. Then I branched out into commercial photography, first in Atlanta, where I grew up, and then I moved to Portland.

What was the genesis of the Dan Plan?
It dawned on me one day that people have always said that you can pursue something only if you’re a certain type of person. For example, you can become a math professor only if you’re analytical and good at math. But I realized that people were just limiting themselves as an excuse to not pursue things. That inspired me to try something completely different from anything I’d ever done. I wanted to prove that anything’s possible if you’re willing to put in the time. I eventually found Dr. Ericsson’s 10,000 hours of deliberate practice theory, and decided to do that.

Why golf?
I thought about tons of things. I have a deep interest in instruments, mainly piano and drums, and also singing. Finance was an option, so was architecture. But I needed something that was measurable and visually interesting so I could tell the story. Also, I wanted something I’d never done to prove a point. Golf is seemingly impossible, but theoretically possible to make it to the highest level. And I liked the game’s simplicity: ball, stick, hole. You’re judged on a number of strokes. There’s nothing subjective about it. […]

Practice is obviously not the only way to sharpen your mental game, but it’s definitely a potent one. That’s why I say that practice builds your mental golf game. And that’s why I think McLaughlin will be successful. I think he can make it to the PGA.

What do you think? Can McLaughlin rise to his dreams in just a few years? What’s the likelihood of him actually sticking it out and completing the 10,000 hours? Let me hear what you think in the comments section below.


  1. It’s a tough challenge for Dan. It would help if he has had some previously hand eye co-ordination skills in another sport. He certainly has the ability with the practice to get down to a low handicap but i’m not 100% sure on getting to the PGA tour. This is another thing all together.

    I wish him all the best and hope he succeeds.

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