The Dan Plan leads novice golfer to 3-handicap

Royal Oaks Invitational player McLaughlin still learning

By Paul Valencia, Columbian High School Sports Reporter



The idea came to him on his 30th birthday.

Dan McLaughlin was out celebrating with a round of golf at a nine-hole, par-3 course in Nebraska.

McLaughlin, with virtually no golf experience, played exactly what one might think of a player with no experience.

He was awful.

Still, that day, and later that night, he and his brother talked about what it would take to excel in the game.

“Months later, I still couldn’t get the idea out of my head,” McLaughlin said.

That’s when he launched The Dan Plan.

The premise, he said, was to test the 10,000-hour hypothesis.

Made famous in the book “Outliers,” author Malcolm Gladwell proposed that the key to mastering anything is to practice that specific task for 10,000 hours.

“I’m trying to demonstrate what’s possible in life if you are willing to drop everything and rededicate yourself to something brand new,” McLaughlin said.

So he quit his job as a commercial photographer, and living off his savings, he is focusing on golf.

Just a little more than three years into the project, and more than 5,000 hours of practice, McLaughlin has gone from novice to a 3-handicap. He has logged his time and blogged his experience and become a big name in the small world of golf.

It took him 18 months of practice before he even played a round.

This weekend, the 34-year-old living in Portland is playing in the Royal Oaks Invitational Tournament in Vancouver.

“I love it because there is a direct correlation between effort and results,” McLaughlin said. “The more effort I put into it, the more reward I get. The more you push yourself, the better you get. It can be frustrating, but it also can be the greatest thing in the world.”

The ultimate goal, he said, is to one day play in a PGA Tour event.

He knows he is still a long way from any chance of that, though. He struggled Friday at the ROIT with a first-round 88.

“There are good days and there are bad days,” he said. “Learning tournament golf is a beast in itself.”

At least he has a full set of clubs, though.

The first time he played Royal Oaks, a couple years ago, he only had six clubs.

That is because he started practicing, learning the game, from the hole and then worked his way backward. Seriously.

He started putting from a foot away from the hole. Then moved back a couple feet. He never left the green the first five months of this project. Then he started chipping. Then some wedge play. It took 18 months before he used a driver.

Now, his handicap just keeps getting lower and lower.

His best score for a par-72 course is 2-under, while his best score in a tournament has been a 3-over 75.

The Dan Plan picked up so much momentum that companies have donated equipment and clothing. Titleist invited him to its California headquarters to be fitted for clubs.

McLaughlin said he appreciates the new friendships in his life. Golf might be an individual sport, but the golf world can be like a family.

“It’s all about competition and camaraderie,” McLaughlin said. “It should be fun, and it should be intense.”

Note: To follow along on McLaughlin’s journey, check out his website:

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