Golfer Dan McLaughlin and the Failure of “The Dan Plan”

Dan McLaughlin reckons he’s sat down to compose the farewell post to the Dan Plan a hundred times. “I just don’t know what to write,” he says.

Sitting in his spartan home in Portland, Oregon, McLaughlin is self-effacing and soft-spoken. He recently launched an artisanal soft-drink venture. Discussing the Dan Plan is like reaching back into another life: Seven-plus years ago, aged 30 and unsure even of which hand to grip a golf club in, McLaughlin quit his job as a commercial photographer, took in lodgers to cover the mortgage, husbanded his savings for green fees, and set out to make the PGA Tour, home to the world’s elite golfers.

He created a catchily named blog to document his quest, and in short order the Dan Plan commanded magazines spreads and TV spots. Along the way, it drew an avid community of followers riveted by the spectacle of a regular Joe living out an everyman fantasy. No less captivated: a salon of leading figures from the science of learning and human performance.

What could you achieve if you committed to something completely, all-in, no excuses? How far could you go? For five years, McLaughlin cast everything else aside—career, money, even relationships—to put this to the test. But then his back gave out. He pushed himself to the limit and still came up short.

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McLaughlin had never aspired to be a pro golfer. Growing up in Georgia, opportunities to play abounded, but he found the game stuffy, rule-bound. Closing on 30, though, he felt like he’d skated over life’s surface. He’d switched colleges and jobs. He liked being a commercial photographer enough, but his ultimate sentiment was meh. He wanted to commit to something, anything.

The conversation that planted the seed for the Dan Plan took place in June 2009, as McLaughlin hacked around a golf course in Omaha, Nebraska, with his brother. “We [talked] about the idea of quitting everything to pursue something single-mindedly and…

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