Guest blog from Stuart Hamilton, aka Goal Guru

Below is a guest blog post from my Performance Expert, Stuart Hamilton, who helps me with goals and strategy. 

In a previous post, Dan had mentioned that we were examining what it might take for his game to make another leap forward. The incremental gains that Dan has made are impressive, but the pace is slower than it needs to be for Dan to be on a trajectory towards being at the level of a touring professional by 10,000 hours. I asked Dan if anyone had come forward with a concrete offer or plan to aid in his journey, but Dan said no offer had been received. I asked him if I might post this blog because I think it is important that the Dan Fans understand our predicament, and are encouraged to respond.

Dan has mentioned that one of his issues is that he can fix his swing with his coach Bruce, only for it to degrade five or six practice days away from the lesson. When Dan sees Bruce often, the swing slide can be arrested before it starts, and good habits are reinforced. Dan’s recent visit to Bruce in Palm Springs made Dan feel that his game had made the most progress in recent memory, probably because of the increased frequency for Bruce to “have eyes” on Dan.

Several months ago I heard Nick Faldo being interviewed on the Golf Channel by David Feherty. I’m particularly interested in Faldo since I met and spoke with him in 2008, prior to learning about The Dan Plan. In the interview with Feherty, Faldo was sketching out his early years in golf and mentioned that he had never touched a golf club until, just short of 14 years old, he was inspired by watching Jack Nicklaus in the 1971 Masters. Six years later he was the youngest player to appear in the Ryder Cup. I purchased Faldo’s autobiography since such amazing progress needed investigation. I read that after Faldo took up golf, little more than a year later he had a 5 handicap and was practicing every moment he was out of school. At 16 he left his high school and practiced full time. At 18, four years from never playing golf, Faldo won the English Amateur Champion.

Let’s analyze Faldo’s path – if we assume that during the 2 years Faldo was in high school, he was practicing 1000 hours a year, and once he left school, he explains that (British weather cooperating) he would practice for about 9 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. During that time he was an occasional carpet fitter, so we have to subtract a few hours for the days he was lugging carpets around, but it seems likely he might have practiced 2500 hours a year between 16 and 18 years old. After 4 and a half years, Faldo turned professional at 19 with maybe 8000 hours of logged practice and play. In his first year on the European tour, he finished 8th on the European Order of Merit, probably around the 10,000 hour mark.

So Dan’s 10,000 goal can be achieved, since Faldo has already done it, although Faldo had some advantages. The first was Faldo’s dedication to honing his skills – such deliberate practice was uncommon, even among professionals, so perhaps he had easier competition than a young player would face today. The second, and perhaps most important advantage was that he was under the daily care of the Club Professional at the club where he practiced. Of Ian Connelly, Faldo said, “I could not have had better care because it is my continuing belief that few, if any, teaching professionals in the world can compare with Ian Connelly in the art of nurturing young talent. He became my biggest fan and my sternest critic.” Faldo had “a professional” guiding him. In contrast, Dan is being guided by an amateur golfer with 3 years experience – himself. This is one of the biggest weaknesses of the program – Dan should not be advising Dan.

Dan’s coach, Bruce, does help with his swing and gives tips during their lessons, and I try to help with goals and strategy, but Dan needs more. He has to add someone to his team to be prescriptive in every aspect of his program, from what Dan should be practicing, swing analysis, how to practice, how long to practice, what he should be expected to achieve. Ideally this person would have already achieved success at the highest level, or been the coach of players that have had significant success, and not be shy on giving advice! The best scenario would be that Dan and this person should be co-located (Dan would be the one to re-locate!), so that they can have daily interactions to study development of swing, skills, course management, and game strategy. Perhaps Dan could be an assistant pro or, as somebody commented on the blog, join a University golf program. If there is a golf facility, University, or Golf Pro out there who is interested, please contact Dan. The solution is out there and I encourage qualified individuals to step up and volunteer to help this important experiment. What Dan is endeavoring to achieve is truly amazing, and the fact that he has been doing it with minimal substantive help, is both remarkable and unusual.

And if Nick Faldo is reading and feels inclined to help, Nick, we hope to hear from you soon!

  • Robert Johansson

    That the swing detoriate from lesson after a few days, no suprise.
    Skype offer today with video a good one on one session, I coach players using skype and watch them swing and adjust it live.

    You can either build a swing that always works or one that you will struggle with and a tour pro swing is heading for struggle.
    Skype can be done on most phones or pads today and even be brought out on the course while playing which might be overkill.
    You either use and apply a superior strategy so called smart work as a lot of golfers put down time but following the recipe of a tour swing and game, well that wont work so good. I done dedicated research for 4 years about the golf swing and research for consistency. There is no better option out there.
    I am currently waiting for trackman result to find out what kind of consistency you can expect.
    I assume a 0-4% dispersion pattern is doable as your normal swing and gameplay. if thats working then Dan could be 100% better than a tour pro with dispersion and he also be longer from tee.
    easily saves him 3000 hours.

    IMHO.

  • Charlie

    I’m a big fan of the Plan, but I’ve always maintained that 10,000 hours is a necessary condition for mastery, not a sufficient one. I believe that there’s such a thing as talent. It’s significant that Faldo himself uses the word “talent” in discussing those whom Ian Connelly successfully nurtured.

    Few teachers or coaches in any discipline would dispute the role of innate ability in the quest of a person to become one of the best in the world in a particular field. Who coached Ben Hogan? Who coached Lee Trevino? Who coached Moe Norman?

    I hope that someone will suggest a way for Dan to practice even more efficiently than he has. He deserves it, and followers of the Plan want him to have every opportunity to test the theory. As someone who himself had the same ambition to achieve athletic excellence as Dan has demonstrated, however, I now believe that the best coaching in the world — even combined with fierce determination, exceptional discipline, and a decade of dedicated practice — would not have enabled me to make a living in the NHL, NBA or PGA.

  • Richard Chen

    Faldo, and or Johnny Miller will be great teachers. Both are around 6 feet three, so that they do have a lot of natural talent to hit long, as taller golfers naturally have bigger swing arcs to hit the ball longer distances. Miller lives on the West coast of the US (near SF, California,) and he swings on the opposite side (ie. left hander swinging right handed clubs.) Miller teaches extensively the precise control of clubface angle at impact, as he shows in some of his YouTube videos. Dan’s Trackman golf swing analyzer machine data shows clubface angle to be inconsistent and widely varying.

    Based on Trackman data, imprecise, inconsistent, and varying clubface angle from square may be “the” single remaining roadblock to sub-par golf.

    In one of my earlier comments on this website, I explained that in short clubs and the putter, clubface angle is pretty much the dominant factor with clubhead path not a factor (as long the path is not grossly off.)

    The golf hole is 4.25 inches in diameter with the radius being 2.125 inches. The effective radius can be rounded to 2 inches, as a ball with any rolling speed will not drop when rolling over the edge of the hole.

    The boundary of clubface angle being off, and still dropping the ball can be calculated as arctan(effective radius of hole/distance of clubhead from hole) assuming the green is perfectly flat, and not bumpy.

    Maximum clubface angle error = arctan(r/d) where r is effective radius of the golf hole, and d is the distance from the hole.

    For example, at five feet (60 inches) from the hole, max clubface angle deviation from square is calculated as arctan(2/60). Using an arctan calculator available on the web, at five feet arctan of 2 inches divided by 60 inches is 1.9 degrees. Thus on a flat and smooth green with the ball rolling at proper speed, the clubface angle can be almost 2 degrees off, and can still drop the putt (or short chip or pitch).

    If the clubface angle can be held to within one degree of being off, putts, chips, and short pitches can be up to 9 and a half feet, and still drop theoretically on a flat, smooth, and windless green.

    If the clubface angle can be held to within half a degree of being off, putts, chips, and short pitches can be up to 19 feet and still drop theoretically on a flat, smooth, and windless green.

    If the clubface angle can be held to within a millionth of a degree, the hole can be miles away and still drop theoretically. Not everybody can consistently hold the clubface angle to within a millionth of a degree. It is a life long endeavor of perfecting clubface angle squareness to approach this kind of precision, but anything less than half a degree at impact of being perfectly square starts to deliver results. Being less than tenth of a degree off is probably achievable for most people, which delivers being able to drop the ball into the hole from up to 95 feet of theoretically flat and smooth green (assuming ball speed can be gotten right from this long distance.)

    Players with consistently high precision of clubface squaring at impact tend to sink a lot of long putts, chips, and pitches, and hitting longer irons stiff often, and keeping drives in play.

    For long clubs like the Driver, 3-wood, and even long irons, clubhead swing path comes into play in addition to clubface angle, as imprecise swing path can produce drastic slicing, and drastic hooks. Straight pushes, and straight pulls means both swing path, and clubface angle together are off at impact.

    Practice of clubface squareness at impact can be done, for example, by setting the label of the ball at right angles to the target line. Good leading hand control usually allows very good squaring of the clubface at impact. The back of the leading hand, together with the top of the flat leading wrist with the top of the leading forearm facing the target at impact with the leading arm remaining straight at impact with the leading elbow turning toward the leading side of the body without “chicken winging” means the clubface is squared at impact. In this configuration it will be hard to miss the fairway.

    Byron Nelson’s book says to swing the clubhead not just to the ball, but in addition from the “ball on through” to a precise targeting point down range, through visualization. Nelson’s record of 11 consecutive wins is still unbroken.

    Swinging the clubhead (not the ball) between the 50 and 100 yard flags is adequate power, unless the national long driving championship is the aim, in which case, the clubhead (not the ball) needs to be swung to the 150 yard flag. The ball goes 3 times the distance of the “virtual” clubhead swing distance. Swinging the clubhead to the 100 yard flag produces 300 yard drives. Swinging the clubhead to 90 yards produces 270 yard drives.

    A golf analyzer machine that can measure to less than 1/10 degrees will be useful. A high power slow motion camera better than 240 fps to 400 fps goes for about 350 dollars.

    A desire to hit the ball as squarely as possible like spending a thousand hours to perfect clubface angle at impact will do the job.

  • jackinlondon

    Like others here, when I heard about Dan’s plan, I got very excited. Having read all the books about deliberate practice (Talent Code, Outliers, Bounce, Talent is Overrated), I definitely would agree that the main driver for world class success is deliberate practice. Sure, there are factors that make it easier to succeed – for example in pro basketball, it’s useful to be 7 feet tall, but that doesn’t mean if you’re 5’10″ you cannot make it (as already proven many times over). That said, I don’t think Dan has ANY physical limitations that would stop him from making the tour, so I believe it will come down to two factors:
    1. Coaching. The point made in this article is SPOT ON. I think deliberate practice is GREAT and necessary, but you must have near constant coaching, at least for a big percentage of that practice time, in order to make sure that the right technique is being used, and to monitor and correct as needed. We can only self-monitor to a point. A wonderful example of that is Spartak tennis academy in Moscow. With one tennis court indoors and VERY modest facilities, they churned out more top 100 tennis players than the entire USA in between 2005 and 2007. What was the secret of their success? well, one very important factor was the WAY that the children practiced. In slow motion, with a coach standing right there giving specific, short instructions, observing, and adjusting the students as needed. The problem with self coaching, is that – even if there are regular weekly training sessions with a coach – it is easy (especially in a precision sport like golf) to break down and go astray…and even micro differences can be fatal.
    I would think that one suggestion for breaking through to the next level would be for Dan to have training with a coach for 1-1.5 hours daily, and then put that into practice with an additional 1.5-2 hours later in the day. It’s been shown through numerous studies that it’s very difficult to have effective practice for more than 90 mins at a time, and while it’s physically possible to practice for longer, the effectiveness declines substantially. While this is an expensive solution, it seems to me it would be a very good one.
    2. Motivation: While I definitely don’t question Dan’s motivation AT ALL, I think that the core reason behind the goal will make a big difference as to how well he succeeds. I’m speaking about the difference between wanting to go on the PGA tour in order to prove that the 10,000 hour rule works and that anyone can do it, and wanting to go on the PGA tour because he wants nothing more than to be a pro golfer. The inner mind knows the difference, and I believe that if it’s just to prove a point, well, there will be a much more difficult time getting there. If the desire is that he will play pro golf because he cannot live WITHOUT playing pro golf, and that he won’t just play in one pro tournament and then give it up…then I think that’s a different kettle of fish all together.
    My two cents, for whatever it’s worth.

  • Eric

    I would think utilizing a tight feedback loop when practicing without a coach could be helpful in the meantime. For me, feel seems to almost always be different from real. For this reason, when I practice on the range, I check video at least every 3 swings. When I’m working exclusively on technique, I check every swing. It definitely takes more time, but I’ve improved faster using this method then I ever did just hitting balls. Slow motion swings with a mirror or other immediate feedback also helps me out. But after doing all these methods by myself, I understand how much more helpful it would be to have a coach watching.

    I also think there is value in learning what it takes to make a change by trial and error on your own, even if it’s a wrong one. That way you learn the method and process of change, then it just becomes a matter of making the right change.

  • jackinlondon

    Brian, I agree – very difficult – not impossible.
    Again, I think if the practice is structured correctly and he has the right motivation and the right coaching, I do believe he has a good shot at competing at a professional level. Scientific studies have proven that we continue to produce myelin, the stuff that helps our brain learn and solidify new skills until they become completely ingrained, well into adulthood. While I do agree that starting at a younger age is a lot easier, and skills would come much faster, I do not agree that it cannot be done.
    As someone else here said, 10,000 hours is a starting point. I think the difficulty with starting later in life is it is more difficult to get in those 10,000 + hours. But I do believe that if Dan is able to get daily coaching with the RIGHT coach (and that’s a subject I haven’t even touched on) he can do it.

  • Richard Chen

    The all importance of having squared clubface angle at impact can be demonstrated with the two following experiments.

    (1) Set up a short putt of four to five feet with the putter face pointing away off of the hole, and try to make the putt by using various stroke paths to overcome the none square putter face. It is impossible to use stroke-path to overcome a none square putter face. Try it. It is impossible.

    (2) Set up a short putt with the clubface square, but make the stroke path off away from the hole, even by a wide margin. The putt can still be made with the stroke path being widely off, as long as the putter face is squared at impact.

    The conclusion of the above simple experiment is that it is not possible to make a straight putt on even and smooth surface without the clubface being squared at impact, no matter what the stroke path is. A good stroke-path cannot overcome any bad clubface angle.

    Thus clubface angle is everything for the short clubs, as long as the stroke path is not off enough to put a lot of side spin on the ball, which can happen on longer pitches, and the full short irons.

    To get clubface angle deviation to less than half a degree to less than a tenth of a degree is precision work. Usually, in performing precision work, the head tends to keep still like in threading a needle. In putting, the leading elbow is often bend somewhat at setup, and may even bend greatly at setup for some with the leading elbow pointing in the direction of the hole. The top of the putter handle is flat, as a guide to increasing clubface angle control. The hands grip the putter so that they are locked in sync with a square putter face, as if the hands and the putter face are one.

  • DanGreiner

    Dan needs to play tournament golf- its the only way to get to the next level. Practice rounds become practice rounds and tournament rounds become important, meaningful rounds to see where you are really at. I am on a pretty fast track myself and check on this site from time to time. I picked up a club at the age of 20; 2 years out of high school. NEVER had I played in high school, NEVER had I touched a club but to go see who hits the long ball Happy Gilmore style at the range.

    Long story short, I played a scramble, fell in love, practiced for an entire year, walked on to a D3 college program, played tournament golf(not very well), ended my collegiate career with a highest place of 2nd on a one day tournament with a 78 in the rain(not a great score I know).

    Fast forward to now at the age of 26(this is my 6th year playing. I have a full time job, 2 kids, dedicate as much time as possible to golf as I still have the drive and feel I can go somewhere with it. I have lowered my tournament average of strokes by 11.83 over the last 4 years and have a handicap of +0.1 currently. Practice rounds do NOTHING for me and it is mentally hard to follow through with a good score. I look EVERYWHERE for individual stroke play competitions to get into any chance I get. This is going to be a big year for me as I will be playing 30-34 tournament rounds.

    Also- I have never had a lesson or a swing coach. I do my best to understand the swing itself and learn how to correct my swing. Practice time is important to me, practice rounds aren’t as fun anymore but important to mentally get ready for making a lot of pars, and individual tournaments are what I play for now. My goal this year is to get ranked on the WAGR(world amateur ranking) even if it is 5000th, its better than where I sit today. My goal is to see how good I can get by age 30 and see if I will pursue it after that age. I love golf and it really pulled me through college and life in general from where I was sitting at age 20. I have learned so much from the game and it is a true passion for me- I think the drive and understanding and non-stop work ethic on getting better. I am open to instructional videos, I watch as many as I can. Because I know my swing, I pick out very few things that I think could help and I write them down. The #1 thing is work on ONE THING AT A TIME. One little baby step. That is the most efficient way to build a swing- one little thing at a time IMO.

  • DanGreiner

    Sorry if this posts twice- Also, if Dan wants to come play in a few tournaments I would be happy to help arrange things.

    Dan needs to play tournament golf- its the only way to get to the next level. Practice rounds become practice rounds and tournament rounds become important, meaningful rounds to see where you are really at. I am on a pretty fast track myself and check on this site from time to time. I picked up a club at the age of 20; 2 years out of high school. NEVER had I played in high school, NEVER had I touched a club but to go see who hits the long ball Happy Gilmore style at the range.

    Long story short, I played a scramble, fell in love, practiced for an entire year, walked on to a D3 college program, played tournament golf(not very well), ended my collegiate career with a highest place of 2nd on a one day tournament with a 78 in the rain(not a great score I know).

    Fast forward to now at the age of 26(this is my 6th year playing. I have a full time job, 2 kids, dedicate as much time as possible to golf as I still have the drive and feel I can go somewhere with it. I have lowered my tournament average of strokes by 11.83 over the last 4 years and have a handicap of +0.1 currently. Practice rounds do NOTHING for me and it is mentally hard to follow through with a good score. I look EVERYWHERE for individual stroke play competitions to get into any chance I get. This is going to be a big year for me as I will be playing 30-34 tournament rounds.

    Also- I have never had a lesson or a swing coach. I do my best to understand the swing itself and learn how to correct my swing. Practice time is important to me, practice rounds aren’t as fun anymore but important to mentally get ready for making a lot of pars, and individual tournaments are what I play for now. My goal this year is to get ranked on the WAGR(world amateur ranking) even if it is 5000th, its better than where I sit today. My goal is to see how good I can get by age 30 and see if I will pursue it after that age. I love golf and it really pulled me through college and life in general from where I was sitting at age 20. I have learned so much from the game and it is a true passion for me- I think the drive and understanding and non-stop work ethic on getting better. I am open to instructional videos, I watch as many as I can. Because I know my swing, I pick out very few things that I think could help and I write them down. The #1 thing is work on ONE THING AT A TIME. One little baby step. That is the most efficient way to build a swing- one little thing at a time IMO.

  • jackinlondon

    @Dan, I agree that there needs to be a mix of both. I don’t know if Dan is simply waiting until he feels that his game is solid enough to enter into tournaments, but I think that you’re totally correct – there is a difference between playing a casual round, a practice round and a tournament. That kind of pressure is tough to replicate.
    BTW congrats on your own quite-remarkable achievement!

  • JR

    Give up – you will never make it and trust me my honesty is not in anyway intended to offend. My extensive experience and knowledge of the game as a Cat1 golfer for the past 20 years playing at courses playing at 7,000 yards at sea level, a spell Caddying and playing on Mini Tours. Why? 2 significant factors – At your age your clubhead speed will not improve enough for you to be a Tour Pro currently just over 100mph – needs to be at least 112-116.
    Finally, all the pros on tour have played competitive golf from an early age. The mental game is huge in golf – go ask Dr Bob in my opinion you need 10,000 hrs of that which by the time you do it you’ll be heading for the senior tour – which is a more realistic aim! Good luck and see you there!

  • Austin Bustamante

    ^^So very well said