The Dan Plan or: The story of a man who quits his job to become a professional golfer despite having never played the game.

In April, 2010, a 30-year-old man named Dan quit his day job in an attempt to become a professional golfer.  He was set in mind and determined it would be possible when walking away from a well-paying gig as a commercial photographer in Portland, Oregon.  The only caveat was that he had zero experience with golf and basically no experience with athletics in general.  He was, and is, pretty much average by most standards.  5’9″ and 150 Lbs, played a bit of tennis as a kid, ran cross country freshman year of high school then took to different interests for the remainder of high school and through university.  Dan wasn’t exactly a couch potato, but was much closer to that than to Usain Bolt.

Regardless of what he did with the first 30 years of his life, the goal was to make the PGA Tour through testing out Dr. K Anders Ericsson’s theory that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an over-achiever in any specific field.  Golf seemed like the perfect vehicle for this test.  It was something he had never done before, it was a mix of physical and mental, it was objective and easy to track one’s progress as there is a world-wide handicapping system already established, and it was outside.  Everything about it felt right, so after 9 months of planning and 5 years of saving up money he started off on the journey.  (On a side note, he originally saved money to put himself through graduate school, but after enrolling and going to one class he realized it was not the right path.)

Dan spoke with Dr. Ericsson a handful of times in the beginning to figure out how to go about the daily routine.  Originally, he figured he could practice for 10 hours a day, 6 days a week and get to the 10,000 hour mark in about 3.5 years, but after speaking with Ericsson about concentration levels and learning absorption, it was evident that this was quickly becoming a much longer project.  The important thing was not just to do it, but to do it right.  If he was going to go all-in and dedicate 6-plus years of his life to this he didn’t want to have any regrets.  A typical day, then, would be between 4-6 hours of time literally standing over a ball engaged in practice along with a handful of extra curricular activities such as working out, watching film, reading about swing theory, meditation, etc.  The days would be long, yet the hours counted towards the 10,000 would be few as only the time spent literally working with the ball would go towards the 10,000 hours.

Plan in place, he set out on a cold-as-hell April day in Portland, OR.  It was rainy, below 40 degrees with 20 mph winds and he wore jeans, running shoes and a bright yellow hooded rain jacket like you would see on a New England fishing pier.  He went to a municipal golf course and didn’t know what the policy was on using the putting green, so introduced himself to the man at the pro shop and told him about his goal as a golfer.  The man asked if he was a scratch player and Dan said he didn’t know what that means and that he hadn’t played golf before.  There were a few laughs and some jokes tossed around then the pro-shop man let him know that municipal courses are owned by the city and anyone could practice there.  This was good news as the first chapter of The Dan Plan was all about putting and if he could do that for free then that was a huge plus as it was going to be a stretch, to say the least, where finances were concerned.

Dan went to work putting away.  From one foot away from the hole.  For four hours.  Every ten putts he wrote down a number in a small Rhodia notebook.  The Plan was pretty simple, he would start from one foot away from the hole and stay there until he reached a specific proficiency, then move out to 3 feet and do the same, then 5, 10, 20, 40 and so on until he had reached a PGA Tour average from all of those distances.  He thought it would take a month or so to go through all of the putting distances, but it ended up being harder than he had imagined.  It only took one day to get to the 1-footers to a 100 percent level, but 3-footers were a different story.  On the first day he attempted 3-foot putts, his percentage made for the day was 63.73%.  After a month of doing just this distance, the percentage went up to 84.8% and then after another few weeks he was finally consistently in the 90+% range where he needed to be.  It was the same for 5-footers, although it took more time and the percentage plateaued around 80%, which is right at the level he needed to be.

This pattern continued until he finally got a second club, which was a pitching wedge he started using on August 29, 2010.  He couldn’t get enough!  After solely putting the ball for 4.5 months he finally could actually hit the thing off the ground.  It was a good day.  As it was for putting, so it would be for chipping.  He started on the fringe just a few feet off the putting green and learned how to knock the ball onto the green, got to his percentage goal from this distance and then moved back some, slowly working away from the green.   By February 2011 he was starting to “play” some golf from about 30 yards off of the putting green and the goal was to make everything in 3 strokes: hit it on and then two-putt.  He worked at it daily and continued the push away from the hole.  In March he had his first full swing lesson and then started practicing/playing from about 100 yards out.  The entire time, he was still spending the majority of his days working on all of the distances he had already worked through.  The new skill, or distance, he was trying to learn would be what he worked on for the first hour of the day and the rest of the day was reinforcing previously learned parts of the game.

He added clubs slowly through the year and on November 14, 2011 he hit a driver for the first time in his life.  It was a great feeling to have made it to a driver and to celebrate he went down to Bandon Dunes, Oregon to play 36 holes with Freakonomic’s author Steven Levitt.  Steven is a good player and they had a blast out there on the Oregon coast.  Dan shot a 94 on the first course and a 98 on the second, with the driver in the bag for the first time and actually still only having 8 clubs:  driver, 3-hybrid, 6-iron, 8-iron, pitching wedge, 52-degree wedge, 56-degree wedge and putter.  There were only eight clubs because he worked through these with the idea of filling in the rest of the clubs later on as there is not much of a difference between an 8-iron and a 7-iron as far as learning the swing is concerned.

On December 22, 2011 Dan finally got a full set of 14 clubs.  Since then, he has been learning what distances each club goes while focussing on his mechanics and always working hard on the short game as that’s the difference between a decent golfer and a great golfer, or so he’s come to realize.  He’s fallen for the sport completely and it has basically consumed his life.  If Dan’s not on the course, he’s thinking about the last round he had or whatever swing thought he may be trying to build into his swing.

Currently he is approaching the 5,100 hour mark and it has been about 49 months since hitting that first 1-foot putt.  Doing that math, that means he has about 4 years remaining.  The project grows as it ages, and not everything goes as planned, but he’s in it for the long haul and will be writing about his experiences while collecting data along the way.

RIght now Dan’s handicap is 3.3. Judging by the stats provided by the USGA:

Screen shot 2013-01-23 at 9.14.21 AMThat puts Dan in the top 4.5% of the 26 millions golfers in the US.

  • Simon

    Nice writeup! Definitely a good idea to post this on the site. I didn’t know you were starting at such a low distance working your way back so methodically, that’s quite a feat of discipline. All the best to you, Dan!

  • Barry Maackintosh

    Try this to keep track of your weakness’s and progress

    http://shotbyshot.com/

  • Richard

    Dan’

    I am a 4 hcp golfer who started golf at 25 and know I am 33. I also put in some hard fun hours trying to master this game. I suggest to keep working on your weaknesses and dont waste any time on your strengths. I spent to many hours looking at the good swings instead of focusing on the bad ones. Your bad shots will soon become good ones.
    Also if you want to progress quickly try to find a mini tour in your area that allows amateurs to play. Playing tournament golf really teaches you the proper focus that you need on every shot as well as you get to play with really good golfers.
    Watching and asking questions is a good way to take your game to the next level.
    I play on the Vancouver Golf Tour, look it up and see if there is anything close to that were you are.
    Have you calculated your handicap lately?
    Good Luck
    Richard

  • kyle

    Been following your progress, Dan, and I’m behind you all the way. I started playing about 4-4 1/2 years ago when I was 30 (almost 35 now) and while my initial goals were not quite as lofty, the notion of ultimately being anything less than a scratch golfer was unacceptable to me. And though I’m not there yet, seeing the progress that I have made with imminently fewer resources I can say not only with belief, but certainty, that you will achieve your goal…if you stay the course and don’t get discouraged (not that you seem to be). I myself threatened to quit the game several times and in the first couple years broke probably around 15 to 20 clubs (give or take). I used to feel cursed that I discovered the game at all! I couldn’t understand how something that caused me so much unhappiness could have such a hold on me; and yet the next day there I would be, back out there trying to correct whatever new mistake I was making. It was most certainly a love/hate relationship. But it’s definitely more love than hate these days. Just saying keep up the good work. But I also had a question: You’ve stated that your ultimate goal is to play on the PGA Tour by playing your way through Q school. I don’t know if you’ve been following what’s going on with the tour behind the scenes lately but there is the possibility that getting onto the PGA Tour through Q school won’t be a possibility anymore. The idea is that one would have to go through Q school to get onto the Nationwide Tour and the top fifty or seventy or something would play a three tournament series with those who are at the bottom of the money list from the PGA Tour to determine who ultimately gets onto the PGA. Just wondering if you heard about this, and if so what your feelings are about it, or if it changes anything about your plan? Just curious.

  • http://thedanplan.com dan

    Hi Barry,

    I use shot by shot, that’s where I’ve gotten the stats for the site: http://thedanplan.com/stats.php

    Thanks!

    Dan

  • http://thedanplan.com dan

    Richard,

    Thanks for the advice. I think you’re right about getting some tournament experience and am looking into playing in some competitive games asap. Hopefully this spring. Vancouver is right around the corner, it would be fun to come up and play some events with you.

    Cheers,

    Dan

  • http://thedanplan.com dan

    Hi Kyle,

    thanks for the encouragement! It’s a complete love/hate relationship. Today was one of those non-love days where nothing at all went right, but there’s always tomorrow..

    I have heard a bit about the future of Q-School and the way to the PGA Tour, but haven’t heard exactly what the new system will be. It does seem like Q-School will be out of the picture by the time I’m at that level. Regardless, whatever the road is in 2016 will be the one that I take.

    Thank you for the comment and keep in touch!

    Dan

  • Rob

    Wow, what a fantastic idea. New to your site, but will make sure I check in each week. Wish you the best of luck

  • http://thedanplan.com dan

    Hi Rob,

    Thank you and welcome to The Plan!

    Dan

  • Marco Kunzmann

    to have the discipline and play from inside 100 yards for more way than a year is impressive. keep on that discipline and you’ll have the chance to get very very low. only who works hard gets rewarded.

    Amazing work, Dan!

  • Neil

    Found your site via the article in golf.com and have read/watched a lot this weekend! Your lesson from last year (video 27?) reminded me of a couple of my own swing issues, ie ball position and early wrist-break! I will continue to follow your progress and use it for inspiration. If you find yourself in Scotland, I’d be very pleased to play with you.

  • Jacob

    I seriously love your idea. So it happens, that I’m in the semi-similar boat, as I’ve chosen to drop out of fairly prestigious college program in my country to pursue a goal of becoming professional classical musician, never having single music lesson in my life. I did it at the age 21 (and typical classical musician starts his education between at 4-6, maybe 8 y.o.) and it’s still in works (fourth year).

    I’m looking forwards to your professional career and, meanwhile – thanks for keeping up this blog!

  • JoshD

    How do you actually find time to track all of your stats during a round? Do you just pull your phone and punch in the stats after each hole? I like the idea (and love statistical analysis) but cant see a way to do it without slowing play down and looking like a tool

  • thedanplan

    That sounds like an inspiring story. How is it coming along? Do you keep a journal or write anything about your experience?
    Cheers,
    Dan

  • thedanplan

    Hello Neil,
    Thanks for following along. Scotland? I would love to make it over there this summer. If all goes well I’ll look you up and we can tee it.
    Hit ‘em straight!
    Dan

  • thedanplan

    Marco,
    Definitely agree with you there about hard work producing rewards. Thanks for reading the story,
    Dan

  • thedanplan

    Josh,
    I either keep them on a scorecard (it takes just a moment longer than writing down a score to record #putts, where the drive went, sand or penalty, etc. Either jot them down after knocking in the putt or put them on your phone while walking to the next tee. Once you get a system down it takes just a second.

  • Ezekiel

    Hi Dan,

    I hope that things are well with you (seeing as you make progress each day, they would be).

    I appreciate your time is important so I’ll get straight to the point. I am very inspired by your project and am undertaking a similar project for a different sport. Difference is that I am a lot younger and time is on my side but I am still quite old in regards to the sport I have chosen. I have also been playing that sport for a while. What I wish to do is inspire others like you have but my query was how did you gather initial interest in your project? What advice and experience can you share through this journey of yours? I guess there was a lot of ridicule in this project when you first started and people also thought it was just crazy talk?

    I hope we can come to sort of communication. Thanks.

  • thedanplan

    Hi Ezekiel,
    Thank you for finding The Dan Plan and congratulations on coming up with your own plan, that is half the challenge! The advice I have for you is to go out there and do it. No matter what people may think now if it feels right for you their minds will change down the road. Also, it’s best to live for yourself and to follow your dreams. What is your plan?
    Dan

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  • TOm

    Why have I not heard of The Dan Plan In Golf Periodicals?

  • TOm

    Why have I not heard of The Dan Plan In Golf Periodicals?

  • TOm

    Why have I not heard of The Dan Plan In Golf Periodicals?

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.d.waring Stephen David Waring

    Dan,

    I gave away competitive sport at 51 (this year) to get into golf seriuosly – I had a few bad injuries with sport last year – who would have guessed that Soccer, Australian Football and Field Hockey could do that to a 50 year old!

    I played golf (dabbled) for a few years and achieved a steady 98 off the stick without science or technique (or fitted clubs). Now I am taking lessons and practising a lot. My old golf life clocked up about 250 hours total I reckon. This year I have clocked 14 hours tuition, 20 hours games and 100 hours driving range. I am flicking my first 250 so now I am on 135 ish – bit to go, but I am hitting it a lot better – my aim is a single figure handicap.

    I have introduced my 14 y daughter and 11 year old son to your plan. I really like the 10K idea – I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers” which was very insightful. I have made my children aware that hey will achieve 800-1000 hours through enjoyment and natural ability (4-5 hours x 20 weeks per year x 10 years – basically a junior sport or dancing routine). The other 9 K must come through dedication and grind. I think it is really important to ensure that my children know that nothing comes easy and that in the end they must work for success. (unfortunately the boy is trying this idea with Xbox and the daughter with 10K hours of shopping!).

    Anyway, best of luck, and if you ever come to Sydney let me show you the Pubs – I have 10K hours in that! Ha.

    Steve

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.d.waring Stephen David Waring

    Dan,

    I gave away competitive sport at 51 (this year) to get into golf seriuosly – I had a few bad injuries with sport last year – who would have guessed that Soccer, Australian Football and Field Hockey could do that to a 50 year old!

    I played golf (dabbled) for a few years and achieved a steady 98 off the stick without science or technique (or fitted clubs). Now I am taking lessons and practising a lot. My old golf life clocked up about 250 hours total I reckon. This year I have clocked 14 hours tuition, 20 hours games and 100 hours driving range. I am flicking my first 250 so now I am on 135 ish – bit to go, but I am hitting it a lot better – my aim is a single figure handicap.

    I have introduced my 14 y daughter and 11 year old son to your plan. I really like the 10K idea – I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers” which was very insightful. I have made my children aware that hey will achieve 800-1000 hours through enjoyment and natural ability (4-5 hours x 20 weeks per year x 10 years – basically a junior sport or dancing routine). The other 9 K must come through dedication and grind. I think it is really important to ensure that my children know that nothing comes easy and that in the end they must work for success. (unfortunately the boy is trying this idea with Xbox and the daughter with 10K hours of shopping!).

    Anyway, best of luck, and if you ever come to Sydney let me show you the Pubs – I have 10K hours in that! Ha.

    Steve

  • ECLS

    Very inspiring story. I’m training my son to be a golfer. He is 2.5 yrs now but playing since he was 14 months. I have also thought of leaving my job to play golf at an amateur and professional level but couldn’t take the plunge due to my financial obligations.

    Did you get any type of sponsorship or did you have enough savings to go in for this long.?

    Thanks.

  • Arslan

    Hey Dan,
    Hope you are doing great with the plan. I am an engineer by profession and started golf seven years back. Due to hectic routine in office i couldn’t manage to play much tournaments and my handicap is now 12. I have won some of the tournaments recently in amateurs. Not really loving the career i chose, there is only one place on earth which fills my soul and that is the golf course. Every memory fades away when i am in the course completely focused and composed on my game.
    For the last two to three months i am completely thinking on considering golf as a profession and becoming a professional. I am 35 now and have a family too. And of course my wife hates the idea of golf. She curses me often when i am grabbing my golf bag and leaving for the course. :) But i know her, she is fine with it anyway.
    What advise you have for me to pursue golf as a professional? I have read your blog and loved it. I can manage to work on the time schedule since here i can play golf for free.
    Plus can you please keep on giving me advises, as i may ask you time to time about my progress and techniques?
    All the best with your future rendezvous and hope to catch you some day.

  • Jonathon Candeland

    Hi Dan,

    I am 20 years old and from England, I have came across your story today whilst searching how to become a pro golfer, At the moment i am playing 2 under par in 72 medium course. Do you think this is good??

    I would really like to become a professional golfer and willing to go all the miles to achieve that, The only problem is that there is limited help to me were i live but allot of courses. I would like to join a golf club would this be the best root in becoming a pro. I go to all of the golf championships and i was at Hoylake Championship practice day yesterday as this is were i live, I seen tiger woods practice again and i have the goose bumps as this is what i want to do.

    Could you please advise me please. I would appreciate it Dan well done with your successful career. I have a email address as Jcandeland_2k8@hotmail.co.uk. Thank you and hope you can give me some feedback.

  • Jonathon Candeland

    Hi Dan,

    I am 20 years old and from England, I have came across your story today whilst searching how to become a pro golfer, At the moment i am playing 2 under par in 72 medium course. Do you think this is good??

    I would really like to become a professional golfer and willing to go all the miles to achieve that, The only problem is that there is limited help to me were i live but allot of courses. I would like to join a golf club would this be the best root in becoming a pro. I go to all of the golf championships and i was at Hoylake Championship practice day yesterday as this is were i live, I seen tiger woods practice again and i have the goose bumps as this is what i want to do.

    Could you please advise me please. I would appreciate it Dan well done with your successful career. I have a email address as Jcandeland_2k8@hotmail.co.uk. Thank you and hope you can give me some feedback.

  • Emiliano Russo

    Dude, it’s all about mindset.. if you play 2 under you are a damn good player, don’t hesitate go for it before you regret it!!

  • Jonathon Candeland

    Hi, Emiliano thanks for your comment.

    Would joining a golf club be the best option for me right now? I would like to be a pro and do very well before it is too late. I have a friend who has a handy cap of 5 and he is amazing but does not want to push further for pro. But i do.