Two years ago, at age 30, Dan McLaughlin quit his job as a commercial photographer in Portland, Oregon, hoping to become a pro golfer — despite never having played a full round of golf in his life. Since then he’s been learning to play, six hours a day, six days a week. His goal: cracking the PGA Tour by 2016.
“A lot of people expect me to be better than I actually am,” McLaughlin says, sitting on the clubhouse porch at Pumpkin Ridge. “But I’m just starting.” He pulls out a waterproof notebook filled with tiny scrawls, a daily record of shots made and missed. Whether he succeeds or not, he hopes his stats will provide a road map for the next person who tries to go pro. “It’s a long process, but we’ve got time.” Sometimes it means tearing down a whole part of his game and rebuilding it: “If you want to be great,” McLaughlin says, “you’ve got to let go of good.”
The implication of a slogan like “talent is overrated” or a story like McLaughlin’s is that anyone can become a top-notch golfer or guitarist or geneticist. In fact, the willingness to stop going to movies and eating out, the desire to spend a chunk of your life on a mission that might not pay off — those are rare qualities. Very few people are willing to spend 10,000 hours on anything that isn’t sleeping or watching TV. Some people tell McLaughlin that they can’t believe he’s spending six years training himself with no guarantee of a payoff. The incomprehension is mutual, since McLaughlin can’t understand why people stay for years at a job they hate. He meets plenty of people who don’t think he’ll stick with the Dan Plan for all six years.
I’m not one of them. I think his chances of turning pro are only a bit better than his chances of going to the moon, but I don’t sense an ounce of quit in him. His quest may not take him to the Masters, but it’s already doing what he wanted it to: turning him into a better version of himself.
The crucible of golf has burned away McLaughlin’s indecision and replaced it with passion. He and his girlfriend broke up, and she moved out, for reasons “not really related to golf,” he says, but honestly, everything in his life now relates to golf. “I don’t really care about other things,” he says. “I wake up; I think about it. When I go to sleep, I’m thinking about it.”
McLaughlin flips through his notebook, contemplating the last 24 months of his life, then shoves it into his pocket. “You can golf by playing two balls. People say your first ball is where you’re currently at, and then the best ball of the two is your potential. If I play best ball like that, I can always get a birdie. I know that ability’s in there, but summoning it for 70 straight shots — that’s a little harder.”
Maybe you should practice, I tell him.
McLaughlin nods, as if he had never considered the notion. “Yeah, yeah. Practice a little more.”
For three key lessons learned from 2,460 hours of golf immersion, click here.