Dan McLaughlin spends six hours a day, six days a week at the golf course in the hopes of going pro – in six years.
Dan McLaughlin spends six hours a day, six days a week at the golf course in the hopes of going pro – in six years.
Credit: Photograph by Jake Stangel
"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."

1. A Game of Golf Begins Before You Hit Your First Ball

"For a long time, the first two holes of a round were my worst because I wasn't mentally there yet. I found that if I sit down and visualize the first two holes, walking through them in my head, by the time I get up to the first tee, it feels like I've already played a couple of holes."

2. If You Walk Slow, Swing Slow

"Base the tempo of your golf swing on the way you walk. If you're a slow stroller, never in a hurry, you'll probably have a nice slow swing. If you're like me, overly excited, you probably have a faster swing. One's not better than the other, but one will probably come more naturally. If you're off-tempo, your swing will be out of sorts."

3. It's Not About How Good Your Gear Is, It's Getting Your Gear Tuned
"All modern equipment's good. The important thing is not which clubs you get, but getting them fit for your body type and your swing, to see where you're making contact with the ball. If your clubs are too short, you can add inches to the club or bend them – every one degree you bend is about an inch on the club."

Update: Dan McLaughlin, One Year Later