Testing the 10,000 hour rule in golf

By Dan Peterson

Dan McLaughlin is a Portland, OR, man who quit his job just before his 30th birthday last year to become a professional golfer.  This wouldn’t be a particularly noteworthy story if Dan McLaughlin had ever really played golf before; but he hadn’t.  The career change was sparked by McLaughlin reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which discussed Dr. Anders Ericsson’s 10,000 hour rule of expertise, a subject we posted about here on Friday.  McLaughlin’s goal is to see if he, after 10,000 hours of practice over the next six years, can become good enough to compete on the PGA tour.

He is going about his training, with Dr. Ericsson as a consultant, in an interesting and methodical way: (Via the St. Petersburg Times)

Here’s how they have Dan trying to learn golf: He couldn’t putt from 3 feet until he was good enough at putting from 1 foot. He couldn’t putt from 5 feet until he was good enough putting from 3 feet. He’s working away from the hole. He didn’t get off the green for five months. A putter was the only club in his bag.

Everybody asks him what he shoots for a round. He has no idea. His next drive will be his first.

In his month in Florida, he worked as far as 50 yards away from the hole. He might — might — have a full set of clubs a year from now.

It will be very interesting to see how this story plays out, if McLaughlin actually sticks it out and puts in his 10,000 hours.

People, of course, have become world-class after practicing 10,000 hours, in golf and tennis and violin or anything else. But never, not in anything, according to Ericsson, has anyone done it like this: to start at this age, with no experience, and to keep statistics from the beginning, and to be so self-reflective about it, and to last even this long. Dan, Ericsson says, is “like Columbus here, sailing out in new territory.”

One Response to Testing the 10,000 hour rule in golf

  1. I agree with the value of progressive practice, but wonder how many people have the patience and time to do that in today’s time-focused, pressure-cooker world.

    There is a solution, however. That is to do progressive practice with the imagination. Done properly, you can have a golfer, for example, make 50 putts in a couple of minutes and it is just as real to them as standing on the green. Than you can do progressive practice in a fraction of the time.

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