I set up for my tee shot as always. The finishing hole was a straight-away 450-yard par four with two trees acting like field goals about 230 yards from the tee box. Hit it between the field goals and you set yourself up for par or better; pull or push the ball and it hits one of the trees, most likely landing without a clear view of the green with bogey written all over it. It’s a good final hole and I had scraped it around for the day, but wanted to finish strong so went after the tee shot. Half way through the swing I felt a sharp stab, like a tiny knife had been jabbed into my lower back. My legs gave out and I ended up on the ground. My first thought was, “did it make it past the trees?” Indeed it had and was actually one of the better drives of the day. Immediately after that thought and seeing the ball land it dawned on me that I was sitting on the ground and not sure if I could stand up on my own. It took a bit of time to get upright and walking was fairly excruciating. I knew something was wrong, but I had no clue of what was to come. The day ended with that swing. I wasn’t able to hit the approach shot and walked off the course directly to my car. There was a long journey ahead of me, both physically and mentally, but I had no clue just how long it was going to be.
Five months before that incident I was invited to participate on Australia’s SBS Insight. It was late 2014 and at the time I was heads down focusing on The Dan Plan, a project about human potential, learning and the exploration of talent versus hard work. It was a golf story, but it was much more than just golf. The plan was to practice for 10,000 hours, starting from never having touched a golf club at the age of 30, to see how far it is possible to go in a completely new endeavor.
Back in 2014 I was healthy and happy and had gotten down to a low single digit handicap, placing me in the top few percent of all golfers on the planet. That SBS program was about the idea of talent and whether it took “talent” to become great at something. My position on the stage was to talk about my own journey and what I had learned about learning. Others involved were coaches, athletes and sports psychologists. It was a case of agreeing to disagree as some people firmly believe that in order to achieve greatness one needs to be born with a specific skill-set while others are in the camp that greatness is earned through countless hours of deliberate work. I learned a lot on that trip to Australia and met some amazing people.
At the time I didn’t know where my journey would end, but was steadily moving along and loving the practice and progress. About five months after the 2014 program aired I was out on the course making a routine swing when I felt something different in my lower back. It was a strange and uncomfortable sensation, but it was more awkward than painful so I kept swinging away. I was playing in a local two-day tournament and wanted to finish the final round. With every swing there was a growing twinge but it wasn’t until that final hole described above where the full pain struck me.
Fast forward three years and numerous hours of rehab later and SBS Insight rings me out of the blue about coming back onto the show. This go-around the producer pitches me on a story about dealing with failure. I was taken aback a bit as I had not completely accepted that the project was finished, nor that it had been a failure. But, after talking with her it came to light that the show was more concerning how we deal with setbacks and how we bounce back when things don’t go as expected. I thought about it for a few days and realized that I had a lot to say and knew it was an important part of the journey to discuss openly. For me, the concept of failure is much easier to deal with than regret and at the end of the day I knew I had given my all to The Dan Plan and did not have any regrets. The future is still wide open and I am hopeful that one day I can pick up the clubs again and resume my practice routine, but in the meantime I can live knowing I gave it a shot and learned tremendously from the entire experience. There is plenty that I would change if I did it all over again, but there was also plenty that went right and was learned along the way.
For me, regret would have far outweighed failure. We can’t change regret, but failure is something we can learn from and helps us grow. Taken with open eyes, failure can be a good thing. And what is failure, anyway? To be honest, failure is most likely the lack of learning from personal experiences. If we learn, adapt and make changes we are never truly failing, but progressing through life. How’s that for a cheesy coach speech? I don’t want to sound like I’m candy-coating any of this, but at the end of the day I needed to process, understand where I am in life and find a way to move forward. I started this journey because I knew I would never forgive myself if I didn’t give it a try. Seven years, and countless amazing times as well as more than a fair share of heartache, later and I have finally learned how to look back and appreciate the accomplishments along the way. It took me a long time to get to this point as I process a little slower than some, but I am finally here and able to write this and close the chapter in my life that was The Dan Plan.
I wrote all of the above as an op-ed for SBS Insight to post prior to the new piece airing today, September 20, 2017. When writing it I knew that I needed to post something on this site as it’s been literally years (or at least two month shy of two years). The thing is, I have been trying to write something and have sat down at least once a month for the past 22 months, but haven’t been able to finish anything.
I was lost for a long time, coasting through life trying to figure out what my purpose was. Since the injury I have had times of depression, elation, hope, doubt and confusion. The first 12 months I was in what I call optimistic denial about the state of my lower back and dealt with it both by being proactive at times and sloughing off the severity at other times. I would take a week off of even thinking about holding a golf club, filling my days with whatever I could occupy the time with (which far too often was taking advantage of the micro-breweries in Portland and watching movies rather than addressing my problems head on) and then would assume my back would feel better after 7 days being swing free, but, alas, one golf rotation back in the saddle and the pain slapped me across the face.
By early 2016 it was obvious to me that daily training was a distant pipe dream and my attention slowly began transitioning to a new company my neighbor and I had started as a hobby the previous year. I’m not one to sit around for too long and when I could not golf I began playing with the idea of launching a craft beverage company with my neighbor Chris. We started brewing recipes in his kitchen for fun and those formulations began to get some solid praise by our peers so we took them to a few of our bar and restaurant friends to try. The response was encouraging and orders started to flow in. What began as an evening hobby to take my mind off golf and act as an excuse for us to hang out slowly transitioned to a viable business. In November 2015 we found a small production facility and decided to move out of his kitchen. Before we knew it we were both working full time to fulfill orders and develop new recipes. 2016 saw steady growth and in early 2017 some investors approached us wanting to purchase a piece of the company and help us grow. It has been an incredible process and I have applied a lot of what I learned throughout The Dan Plan to growing this business. In particular, the realization that progress is not linear; sometimes momentum flows freely and other times it can take countless hours to see any results. But, at the end of the day the trick is to keep working at it and maintain an open mind. Just like in the golf swing, it’s far too easy to repeat the same flawed patterns in business.
I don’t think I could be where I am today without everything I learned from 2010 – 2015. I am not in any way happy to have had to hang the clubs, but after having enough time to properly process everything I have come to realize that some things are out of our hands and it’s not about what you want to do in an ideal world, it’s about what you do with the circumstances that are presented. I don’t have any regrets about how The Dan Plan ended, but I do have some regrets about how I dealt with the setback when it happened. I could have been more proactive and responsive and open about everything. Instead I held back and sat on the sideline hoping things would magically get better. The thing about regret, though, is that it’s something that has already happened and, almost always, can’t be changed. So, instead of spending another minute lingering on what I could or should have done, I am decisively looking towards the future.
The business is going well and I am excited to grow it and continue the learning journey that is life. Perhaps one day I will be in the position to sell my portion and have the proper funds to resume The Dan Plan. I suppose at that point it would be a more honest goal to reach the Senior Tour. Whatever the future holds, it’s time to go out there and make it happen. The sidelines just aren’t as much fun as being in the action and I spent too much time warming the bench while hoping my back would heal. However, my true business goal is, because of this experience, to be able to one day give back tenfold the support and encouragement you all have provided for me along the way. I wanted to inspire people through The Dan Plan and from the emails I have received along the way I can safely say that was a success. The next goal is to go from an inspirational story to being in a position where I can offer support to others. What is the point of business if not to be able to give back?
I apologize that this has taken me almost two years to write. It was never my desire to change directions and hang up the sticks. It was after having a heavy heart for a long time that I finally realized my own physical limitations and what I needed to do to move on in life. I did not even admit to myself that this was over until earlier this year and even then it seemed like I had not fully accepted the reality of it all.
There is no way to properly thank everyone who has followed along since early 2010 when it all began. I found a truly supportive and amazing community online and in golf and my life is forever better for the people I have met along the way. Despite all the hardships and horrors that seem to happen daily, we still live in an amazingly encouraging and supportive world. I have seen that first hand since my injury and thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
Thank you all.
One more note. Here is a bit about the background of the project. I wrote this in 2014 right before being on SBS for the first time:
At the age of 30, I quit my day job as a photographer to test the 10,000 Hour Rule – Dr K. Anders Ericsson’s theory that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an over-achiever in any specific field.
With almost no experience at all, I decided I’d try to become a professional golfer.
The idea first arose on a road trip with my brother in Nebraska. We played a par 3 course and I was terrible – I’d never played before. We were standing around talking about talent versus hard work and we decided there’s no way to know what would be possible unless you totally dedicated yourself to something.
It took nine months of thinking and a huge dip into my savings, but I decided to test out the theory.
Golf seemed like the perfect vehicle for the test. 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.
I spoke with Dr Ericsson a handful of times in the beginning to figure out how to go about the daily routine. Originally, I figured I could practise for 10 hours a day, six 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 going to be a much longer project.
A typical day, then, would be between four and six 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 count.
I started in earnest on a cold-as-hell April day in Portland, Oregon. I wore jeans, running shoes and a bright yellow hooded rain jacket – it was clear I was a total novice. When I discussed my plan at the pro shop there were a few laughs and some jokes tossed around.
I got to work putting from one foot away from the hole, for four hours. The plan was pretty simple: I would start from one foot away from the hole and stay there until I reached a specific proficiency, then move out to three feet and do the same, then five, 10, 20, 40 and so on until I had reached a PGA Tour average from all of those distances.
I thought it would take a month or so to go through all of the putting distances, but it ended up being harder than I had imagined. After solely putting the ball for over four months, I finally made some progress and could move on to chipping, and so on.
By February 2011 I was starting to “play” some golf from about 30 metres off the putting green and the goal was to make everything in three strokes. I worked at it daily and continued the push away from the hole.
I added clubs slowly through the year and at the end 2011 I finally got a full set. I’ve since fallen for the sport completely and it has basically consumed my life. If I’m not on the course, I’m thinking about the last round I had or whatever I need to work on.
It’s been four years since I started testing the 10,00 Hour Theory and I’m now approaching the 5100 hour mark. Doing the math, I’ve got four more years until I’ve completed the full 10,000 hours and have reached my ultimate goal of competing in a PGA tournament.
I believe the theory is working – right now my handicap is 3.3, putting me in the top 4.5 per cent of the 26 million golfers in the US.
The word “talent” gets thrown around too much. There are certain genetic predispositions that make specific endeavours more viable for certain people. Those born with 90 per cent fast-twitch muscles may have an easier ability to get to a certain level in running, for example, but that’s not the same as “talent”. People think it’s a magical thing that makes someone good at something right off the bat. There has to be a hard work component to success.
What makes someone “talented” is a single-mindedness to push through the lows and to allow themselves to change and grow. Hard work is being able to change and get better at what you’re passionate about, which is why I’m in this for the long haul. In four years’ time, I don’t think there’ll be a difference between me and a pro golfer.
Thank you all again, from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know if it makes sense to continue to write on this site or not, but will give it some thought and perhaps keep the blog running, just with a new plot line…