I answered some questions today for Nicholas Janzen, writer for Australia Golf Digest, and I thought that the answers could potentially shed some light on the “why” and “what” about The Dan Plan. Here are the questions and my answers:
I guess the first question is why: why The Dan Plan? Why dedicate a large chunk of your life to something which, statistically at least, is unlikely to happen? What’s your mission?
The Dan Plan was born out of a life of living around people who say that we are all a “type” of person. “I’m a numbers person so I can’t do something creative,” or “I’m not good at math because I’m a creative type,” or “I’ve done x all my life and it’s too late to start doing y.” Personally, I don’t believe in this mindset, I think we are what we do and if we want to become something completely different than what we have been all our lives the only thing keeping us back is doing it. We are what we do and with enough effort we can become anything in life. To prove this point, I wanted to go to the extreme and become something completely different than anything I have ever done in the past and to do it in an ultra competitive field. There are roughly 250 people in any given year who have their PGA Tour cards, so if I can become one of those 250 than I believe that truly anything is possible if you are willing to put in the hard work.
What was the catalyst for you making this decision? Tell me how the idea came about…
The catalyst was playing a 9-hole par 3 course in my 30th birthday in Omaha, Nebraska. I went out with my brother and a friend and shot about 55 on the short par 3 course. Afterwords, we were chatting about whether it would be possible to make the PGA Tour at our ages and what it would take to transform from a complete novice to a professional. Whether or not anyone thought it was possible wasn’t interesting to me, what was interesting was giving it a shot, following through and seeing what was possible. I decided at that moment to dedicate myself to this idea; to see if something like this was possible for the average joe. I had zero experience in golf as a child and was never exposed to it. Could someone in my situation become elite in an athletic endeavor if they gave it a shot and did not give up regardless of the hardships along the way? I was hooked.
How has your life changed since The Dan Plan? Obviously you’re no longer working full-time, you’re on the course more than most and you’re being chased by the media … any crazy fans sending you emails? Females sending underwear/photos in the post? Anything like that? (My dreams of fame might differ slightly from reality!)
Ha! Not exactly receiving underwear in the mail, but have had a ton of great support along the way and encouraging emails. The positive responses have outweighed the crazy critics 20 to 1 and I appreciate everyone for keeping me sailing straight through the hard times and good. My life has changed immensely. I wake up happy and energized almost every day, I love what I do and have gotten in better shape both physically and mentally because of it. I appreciate life more and love that I have gotten to follow a dream on a daily basis for the past 27 months. I can’t wait to get out to the course every day and continue pushing towards the goal. I did enjoy my previous job, but the overall contentment in my life has drastically improved in the past two years.
How important is making the PGA Tour to you, compared with simply showing people out there that anything is possible with hard luck and determination?
The PGA Tour is the goal and what I push for every day. Anything less than that will be a disappointment to me personally and I am not willing to accept any alternative goal. I think about it every day and work towards it in all aspects of my game. On the other hand, the point of The Dan Plan is to try and inspire people to follow their dreams and break down self-inflicted barriers. The project is already a success based on the number of people who have written to say they have been inspired to pick up a long time passion and push themselves towards new goals.
I bet the prospect of one day becoming a successful professional golfer does seem nice, especially with the financial pressure you’re likely facing!? How have you managed to get by financially, and how are you hoping to stay afloat the next few years? Is it mainly through corporate sponsors, or through the public support via your website, too? (I think I read you don’t have a major sponsor yet – hopefully this can help. Does Nike only supply gear?) Are you having to save money now… and if so how?
I wanted to be able to finish the entire project on my own dime so that people would not have the excuse of money getting in their way of doing something like this. I saved money for about 5 years prior to starting The Dan Plan and at the onset had enough to live on for about 4 years. The Dan Plan is taking longer than I thought it would to get to the 10,000 hours, so at some point down the road it might make sense to partner up with a good sponsor, but to date I have not received a single dollar from any corporation or company. Online, there is a donations page on The Dan Plan website that has had some amazing people contribute over the past 2 years. This donations have helped quite a bit and I appreciate all of the support I have received. It’s amazing! As I see it now, I am still able to support myself, but there are a number of things that I would like to do to help my game that I cannot afford on my savings. For example, it would be beneficial to spend this coming winter somewhere that doesn’t rain every day like Portland, OR does. Whether it’s Palm Springs, Florida or Australia, it would be good to be able to afford a change of scenery and to play some new courses over the winter months. With a sponsor would not be a far fetched idea. Nike has been kind to me and provided me with all of my gear to date and Columbia Edgewater Country Club has granted me greens privileges which has been amazing as it’s the best place to practice and learn golf in Portland.
What made you choose golf and not tennis, baseball… or something else? What was the attraction of golf?
I chose golf for a number of reasons. It wasn’t just sports I was looking at testing the limits of, it was any and all aspects of life. I decided upon an athletic endeavor because it was far from anything I had attempted in the past. Golf seemed like a logical fit as there was an international system set up for determining progress, (handicap system) there were no obvious size or age restrictions, (I was interested in tennis, but by the time I will be finished I will be 36 and that is well over the age for a professional tennis player) and I liked the simplicity of the game: ball stick hole, whoever gets it in the hole in the least amount of shots is the winner that day. Also, golf is a mix of physical and mental so it would be a challenge on all sides.
How did your friends and family react when you told them you were planning on quitting your job and becoming a professional/full-time golfer? Were they supportive? Surely someone, at some stage, had some doubts and was determined to set you straight…
It was pretty funny when I was telling people what my idea was in that most of them just sort of agreed that it seemed like something that I would do. I’ve always had grand ideas in life, but never was in the position to actually follow through with them. This time I had the funds and everything was in the right place to set off on an adventure. My family was not discouraging in any way, albeit not exactly pumped about the decision, but as long as I didn’t have to borrow money and was not a burden on anyone there didn’t seem to be any reason to not give it a shot. It did, though, take about 9 months of working on the project before people really started coming around and enjoying it as something that I was fully into and seeing that I was completely dedicating myself to. Once that bridge was passed everyone around me seemed to support the project. Nobody that I know well ever told me to not give this a shot.
OK, getting down to the mechanics of your golf game now – you’re left handed. How long did that take for you to figure out? Have you found any particular difficulties only lefties face? I suppose most golf pros, at least, are right-handed and might initially struggle to teach lefties…
At the first lesson with my swing coach Christopher Smith he had me putt both left and right handed and we determined that I aimed better from the left side. I’ve always been a mix of hands: play tennis right handed, write left handed, throw right handed, bat left handed, etc. but the club felt more comfortable on the left side and I am right eye dominant so swinging from the left side allowed my right eye to be more in control of my aim. As far as disadvantages, some of the club manufacturers take 4-12 months to release left handed clubs after the new sticks come out in righty version, but that’s not really too bad as they will come out eventually. Years ago it was a much larger problem, but today almost everything that comes out in a righty will be out in lefty eventually. For lessons, it’s actually easy to watch a right handed coach swing and then do the same left handed as a mirror image and when looking at video of pro swings we can flip the image to make it look like they are hitting lefty. So, with modern technology it isn’t the issue it was 20 years ago.
Any communication and words of wisdom from left-handed pros like Bubba and Phil Mickelson… and any other players for that matter? And who is your favourite player and why?
I have not heard from any left-handed pros, but have run into a few others along the way. Last fall I spent a couple of days with Bernhard Langer down in San Francisco when he was playing in a Champions Tour event and I was lucky enough to watch Boo Weekley and Jason Bohn practice at Cartersville Country Club over the winter. Also, Scott Stallings called me last year to talk, which was fun. I don’t really have a favorite player, but love to watch the variety of swing compete on a weekly basis and see how certain types of shot makers fare on different style courses.
The Dan Plan centers on 10,000 hours of focused and engaged practice. How do you stay engaged for such long periods of time, so many times per week?
I break it down and focus for multiple short periods of time during the day. Practice might be 15 minutes on 5 minutes off, or 25 minutes on 10 minutes off. Just like in a round of golf, you have to focus for short periods of time then take the focus off for a bit. By doing this you can maintain a high focus to your practice and keep it going throughout the day. One thing is that it might take 8 hours of the day to practice for 6 hours, but when it’s your full time job the priority needs to be in the quality and it’s better to take your time and do it right rather than try and cram as much as possible into the days. Every day is a new day and a new opportunity to learn, I never approach the course with a bad attitude, but am excited to start a new day and see what I can learn. The time usually flies by and before I know it it’s getting dark out and time to head home and get ready for tomorrow.
That hour count shows you’re pouring a hell of a lot of time into this project – and, through the website and blogs etc, your heart and soul. Have you ever thought of giving up… that it’s just not worth the effort? Your inner circle of family and friends must play a big part of keeping you grounded despite the constant highs and lows…
We all have bad days, it’s just part of being human. There have been instances where I have gotten extremely discouraged, but over time I have realized that these low points come in cycles and it’s during these moments when the best learning happens. If you can manage to push through you know that a peak is just around the corner. My friends and family have been huge in helping me realize this and I will be forever grateful for having them around. Contrast is the gold of life and without the hard times the good times would just seem average.
You started your practice on the green with the putter. You chose a short putter – why did you overlook the long or belly putter? I think I heard you say you stayed focused on the putter – using no other clubs – for 543 hours. How did you stay sane?
It’s true, I only putted for the first 5 months, or 543 hours, of The Dan Plan. I started with one type of 34 inch putter then switched and tried a couple of other ones before finally settling on a Nike Unitized 34″ which I have used since. I love my putter and have never felt like I was a bad putter or needed to branch out and try the belly style. Perhaps one day I will give one a shot, but if it’s not broken… At the beginning I only knew putting. That was golf to me and since I had never really hit any club besides the putter (knowledgeably, I had played a few par 3 courses in my life, but never had a swing lesson or knew what I was doing) I didn’t know what I was missing. I’m glad I spent that time in the beginning because it has made me confident on the green, but not sure if I could do it again now that I know how good playing golf really is.
Talk us through an “average” day in the life of The Dan Plan. Are you focused on golf from wake-up… or do you space out your golf commitments so you’re always fresh mentally and physically? Talk us through your timetable.
I typically wake up, have breakfast and answer a couple of emails then head to the course and put in 2 hours of putting, chipping and range time spread out over about a 3 hour window. Then hit the course and either play 18 or just play 6 practice holes and depending on the time of the day and what happened in the round/practice holes, work on the range or putting green for a couple of afternoon hours. By this point it’s around 5-6 and I will eat some dinner then do a little workout or jog and in the summer head to the range for a short session. Then it is pretty late and I answer more emails, maybe write a blog or catch up on other aspects of the website and do some reading and journal the day’s work. Go to bed and wake up to start a new day.
You’ve made pretty amazing progress in just 30 per cent of the total hours allocated to the project. Your handicap’s at 6. How are you going to drop it further? What are the areas in need of attention? What in your game could stop you from being a pro?
Thank you. Working on the short game for the first 18 months of The Dan Plan has helped make me confident from 150 yards and in. Since getting my first full set of clubs December 29, 2011 I have learned a lot about how to play a round of golf and that teamd with the short game practice that I put in has allowed me get the handicap down to around 6. Recently, I was fit for a set of clubs and am now figuring out how to best hit those and am excited about what lies ahead once I have full confidence in all 14 sticks. Consistency is always the key to a solid round of golf and to get to the next level I need to improve getting off the tee, which is my newest aspect of learning the game. I have hit drives since November 13, 2011 and fairway woods since the beginning of 2012; once I have more experience with those and am not hitting my second shot from the trees 3/4 of the time I believe that the scores will continue to drop. All aspects of the game need attention and I will continue to work on everything from 1-foot putts to hitting longer drives. Over the next 7,000 hours and 4 years I plan on adding distance through physical conditioning and better mechanics as well as constantly working on consistency and the mental game. Long story short, what I need to improve is getting off the tee, the approach shots and everything around the green. That said, I have come 1,000 miles since April 5, 2010 and am excited to see what happens come April 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016…
If and when you make it to the PGA Tour, do you have a caddie lined-up? Is it true there is a man in Australia doing 10000 hours as a caddie so he might be your caddie at the Australian Open?
That’s interesting, I’ll have to look him up. I have had a handful of volunteers offer to caddy for those first Tour events and suppose that when the time comes I will have some sort of contest/game devised to see who gets the job. I have become good friends with a few great golfers along the way and would be honored to have them caddy for me if they are interested, too.
I see you do get out and hit the countryside a bit with your girlfriend – is that part of the plan, to keep your game in focus by stepping back and analyzing it from a distance from time to time?
We can all benefit from stepping back from time to time. I’ve found that by completely departing from golf for even one day I have great realizations in my game that have helped me get over humps along the way. Sometimes I get so immersed in the moment that I have trouble changing my thought process which gets in the way of solving the problem at hand. By going camping or taking the day off to hike through the woods the brain has time to process the issues at hand and naturally work them out. It doesn’t always work, but I usually have an “a-ha” moment when out in nature.
What has your girlfriend thought of this plan? Did you meet her prior to this? How did you meet? Tell me a little about the dynamic between you two.
My amazing girlfriend is very encouraging and loves the plan. She inspires me on a daily basis and I hope that I can do the same for her. We met after I started the project, so she only knows me as the guy who golfs every day and gets frustrated or excited according to scores shot, which to her are abstract as she has never golfed. We work well together and I appreciate that she does not golf so that when I’m finished at the end of the day we can discuss things non-related to the project. I put so much energy into golf throughout the day every day that by the end it is good to have a break and to think about all other aspects of life. She helps me stay driven every day.
You mention you’ve spent a fair while focusing on health and fitness. By your own admission you’re not a huge guy – has your frame helped or hindered your performance thus far? And any words of advice for golfers with a similar frame?
I was not in bad shape, but I definitely wasn’t in good shape when I started the project. Since then I have spent more time in the gym and focussing on fitness than at any point in the first 30 years of my life. I do have a smaller frame, but in golf that doesn’t seem to matter as much as in some other sports. Some of the greatest golfers, both historically and current, are around the 5’9″ mark where I stand, so I do not see size as an ultimate deterrent in any way. The goal is to find the most effective and efficient swing for my body type and run with it. I would advise anyone of any size to figure out what works for them and to play that way.
When this plan is finished and, in say, 100 years when we’re all no longer alive and people stumble across clippings on your career and journey, how would you like to be remembered? What’s your legacy, Dan?
I was golfing with two people last week who were talking about legacy plans for their businesses and establishing their 200 year goals for what the business will look like when anyone they could possible know or influence in any way is long gone. I had not thought about it and am not sure what, if anything, would survive the test of 100 years from The Dan Plan. But, regardless of what happens to me I am pushing the line. If this is successful then it helps demonstrate more about the potential in each of us. If I do not make the mark, the next person can read through everything I did and figure out what was right about my progress and where I stumbled and then take the torch and continue the charge. Eventually we will make it to the top in everything, not just golf. In this specific quest, perhaps that will be in four years or 100.
I recently read a blog post of yours that said “there’s nothing sexier than trying… branching out, diving in and the rest will come”. I guess it’s a motto your grand plan follows! Your plan – of having a go, being brave and shooting for the stars – could influence the lives of many people in many different ways. People could give up settling for second best and start following their dreams – aiming higher in life in careers, family and relationships – as a result of The Dan Plan. Hearing the possibilities of what you can help others achieve must make you proud surely?
We humans, as a collective and individually, are far from realizing our potential in any aspect of life. Striving for improvements is what has pushed the human race to the civilized realities of our modern times. We break world records regularly in physical pursuits and constantly innovate ways to improve our lifestyles. We live longer, healthier lives and all the pieces are in place to be happier than ever before. The only limits are the one’s we put on ourselves and if The Dan Plan can help one person realize this than the entire pursuit is a success.
Are you fearful about not achieving your goal if you reach the 10,000 hours… or are you confident and proud of your achievements and efforts no matter what the end result?
I am not fearful in the slightest and am proud of how far I have already travelled.