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The drive to succeed: How a Portland photographer put his life on a new course

July 27, 2013


From the site:


Three years ago McLaughlin, now 34, didn’t know how to golf. He worked as a commercial photographer in Portland. Then he chucked it all and set out on a journey to become a professional golfer by doing nothing but practice for six years.

He found a coach, developed a plan and for five months only putted. From 1 foot away. From 3 feet. Then 5. Then from all over. At six months he started chipping from the edge of the green, slowly moving farther away.

After 12 months he took his first full golf swing and at 18 months started practicing with a driver. On Dec. 28, 2011, 21 months into what he now calls The Dan Plan, McLaughlin played his first full round of golf with a full set of clubs.

Practice swings

Expert performance is similar to an iceberg, where only one-tenth of the iceberg is visible above the surface of the water and the other nine-tenths are hidden below it. When fans observe an elite athlete perform at a competition lasting a few hours they may not be aware of the over 10,000 hours of practice that preceded this display.

— K. Anders Ericsson,
Optimizing Performance in
Golf, Australian Academic
Press, 2001

McLaughlin is a bit of a seeker. He grew up in Georgia, spent a year at Boston University then another at the University of Georgia before traveling around Southeast Asia and Australia. He finished at Georgia and landed a newspaper photography job in Tennessee, but left after a year. In 2006 he moved to Portland, "because I liked the West Coast," and started working in commercial photography.

But he was restless, not particularly jazzed about his work and looking for something different. He considered graduate school or something really off-beat like drumming.

He came up with the idea of taking on golf in June 2009 while visiting his brother in the Midwest. They were goofing around on a par-3 course in Omaha when the topic turned to talent versus hard work and practice.

"That’s when I decided," McLaughlin says. "It just seemed to fit."

He returned to Portland and his job taking pictures of dental equipment at A-dec in Newberg. But he also started researching what it would take to become a top golfer. That’s when he ran across the work of K. Anders Ericsson, the Florida State researcher who has studied college students, musicians, dancers, chess players, athletes and what makes them top performers.

Ericsson’s work was popularized, somewhat inaccurately, in Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book "Outliers: The Story of Success," which examines how a person’s environment, personal drive and motivation affect his performance and success. Ericsson asserts that practice is more important than talent and that with at least 10,000 hours, and sometimes up to 10 years, of "deliberate" practice a person can become elite in his field.


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