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Dan is working to a plan

(Photo: Bruce Young)
35 year old American Dan McLaughlin is a man on a mission.

McLaughlin, currently in Australia for a guest appearance on the SBS Insight programme entitled "Born or Made," is also taking advantage of his time while here to play as much golf as he can as he chases his dream of becoming a PGA Tour player after starting from a zero golfing base three years ago.

"Insight contacted me as they wanted to do a show on whether you have a better chance of getting to a certain level through being naturally gifted or just by working hard. The discussion was whether or not you have the right genetics and are born to be a star of whether it comes from just hard work or both.

The show airs on July 22nd but McLaughlin is taking advantage of being in Australia to play some of its better courses and rekindle memories of an earlier trip to this country in 2001 when golf was not part of the equation.

While here McLaughlin has also hooked up with Network Ten's Golf Getaway host and founder Andrew MCCombe for a busman's holiday to the Gold Coast while McCombe was filming for his show and it was while there that I had the chance to get a better understanding of just what that mission is.

McLaughlin, originally from Atlanta but now from Portland in Oregon, has a degree in journalism, with an emphasis on photography which he gave away to set out on this quest. He made a decision in 2011 to investigate the possibilities of an absolute novice at the game of golf, or any discipline for that matter, getting to the PGA Tour or the heights of any field of endeavour, through a commitment to practice alone.

"The first decision I had to make was whether this journey was going to be a sport because I had also thought about the same exercise for art, music, architecture, science and medicine," said McLaughlin while preparing for a round of golf at Arundel Hills.

"I decided to do sport as I had very little previous experience in it and then golf because there is no size archetype or age limit, as such, whereas with tennis, for example, by the time I finish with this I would have been 38 or so and well past my tennis prime.

While he had experienced very little exposure to the game previously he decided on golf and worked out a plan (The Dan Plan) that would see him commit 10,000 hours of quality practice in an endeavour to get him game from zero to PGA Tour level in that period.

"There is no real family connection to golf. I am the first. I took my Dad to the driving range for his very first time for his 65th birthday and I guess my brother has played a few times in a corporate situation."

"My first exposure to the game was when my brother and I had a hit or two on a par three nine holer when he was based in Omaha. I didn't even know if I was left or right handed it was that bad, but as soon as I finished the round I wanted to go back out and really felt I could get good at it. Later that night we were having a discussion on human performance and whether you could quit your job and dedicate yourself to something brand new at the age of 30 and get to the top level.

"That resonated with me and simmered and a few months later, in fact on my 30th birthday I made the decision to go ahead on commit to it."

The story has been gaining momentum and growing legs in in terms of social media and media generally although it took a while for it to reach that stage.

"It took over a year before the first story came out and for a long time I was writing a blog to myself, almost an on line diary, but once it got picked up it resonated with people because it is more than just one person's journey but tests the idea of talent verses hard work and so people tune in to the bigger picture.

So is it about the journey or the destination?

"During the day to day it is about the journey. I don't think about years down the road but more about how I am striking my irons and the ball today. It has to be about the journey as it is such a long period and if you think only about the outcome you would go crazy."

McLaughlin lives by the belief that "˜you are what they eat and you are who you say they are'. "You know that is one of the things that once you get to a certain level of golf you have to change your thinking to believe you are a good golfer are not a beginner anymore and you have to start telling yourself and believing you are a good golfer.

"It is almost as hard to convince yourself you are as good as you are as it is easy to convince yourself you are not as good as you could be."

The specific task is to involve 10,000 hours of quality practice to reach his goal but are there many other hours of not so quality practice he is putting into the game?

"On this trip we have played a bunch of rounds which could be described as social at best but the hours that count towards my goal are those that are focused and practising. When I return to Portland I will refocus on my staggered goals. You do have to have goals otherwise you just float around."

McLaughlin has had a good relationship with www.iseekgolf.com, more especially the forums on the site. "Years ago iseekgolf was one of the first mediums to pick up the story. At the time I had only three clubs and it was funny as people were polarised as to how successful it would be but iseekgolf and its members have been a great support and they seem to do a lot for golf in Australia.

Has that occasional scepticism been a motivation or a disappointment to McLaughlin?

"I think at worse it is a motivation. Scepticism is good because it shows there are people on both sides paying attention. Without sceptics you can get a little lazy and it does serve to motivate you to prove them wrong."

The schedule he is currently on has him completing that workload in 2018 and this trip to Australia is a one off and a departure from the norm. "This visit was kind of a last minute thing. They (Insight) booked the tickets literally the day before and I will be back to a more disciplined schedule when I get back to Portland.

So the obvious question is just how he is funding this mission. "I am funding it myself out of my own savings essentially and although I occasionally get a bit of equipment assistance the golf industry has proven hard to get support from in that regard. I am always being told there is no money for sponsorship."

McLaughlin has reached the halfway point in terms of hours and has already reached a three handicap. The lefthander appears to have a tidy game but whether he can reach his goal remains to be seen. The question then would be what is second best if he has to settle for it?

"Originally my goal was to get to scratch at 5000 hours. It's taken a little longer but I am not far from that and just need a few things to click for me to play the golf I think I am capable of playing.

"In a sense I am a little behind but I think I have made a huge leap to get to a three handicap after never hardly touching a club previously."

So has there been a lot of assistance technically?

"I work with a swing coach who I was seeing a lot but now it is a case of just checking in with him now and then and I also work with a lot of sports psychologists including the Vision 54 people

McLaughlin has been to the occasional PGA Tour event and Champions Tour and LPGA Tour events when they come to the northwest.

So back to the question of what he would settle for in terms of making this a successful journey if he can't make it to the PGA Tour?

"I am going to play in the Heritage Classic in 2018. It comes on the anniversary of the start of this journey so that is the goal."

The Heritage Classic is played the Hilton Head Island where his parents now live and he sees that as a great target. It is more than likely that he will need an invitation to play but with the growing publicity for the quest he has undertaken then it might just be that an invite by the organisers would be a great publicity boost for the tournament.

That though is still four years away but essentially he was telling me there is no second best and he thinks only of the positive.

For some it may seem an unlikely pipedream but at worst it is an interesting study in committing to a goal, staying on target and achieving against the odds.

Dan McLaughlin is one of those characters you can't help but warm to. He has an engaging manner but a quiet yet steely focus.

By the time his journey is over we all may have learned something from his achievement, however it is measured.

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