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Reece abandoned the quest in 2003 to start a family with her husband Laird Hamilton, the surfing icon. Just as with the acquisi- tion of language, mastering golf is undeniably easier at a young age. As Harmon told me back then, “A good swing is really a small part of it. Learning how to score takes a lifetime. I mean, I grew up playing ‘til dark ev- ery night, having chipping and putting contests with my brothers. It’s almost impossible to reproduce that experience.” So while McLaughlin

labors to train his body and mind and accrue a certain institutional knowledge, even all of that might not be enough. As Parent points out, “If you take all the college golfers and all the mini-tour players from around the world, there are tens of thousands of highly-skilled, highly- motivated golfers who are routinely shooting low scores in a competitive environment. But only a tiny fraction of them will ever make it to the PGA Tour, and only a small percentage of those play- ers will so much as win one tournament. What separates them? That is where it gets really interesting.” Rickie Fowler has no

trouble articulating why so few succeed at the highest: “Competitive pressure is a whole different animal. This guy Dan, he can play well at home with his buddies, but it’s different when you’re out

here, when you actually have to go out and post a score and it matters.” McLaughlin has been eas-

ing into competitive situations by playing club tournaments and the like, but that’s light- years from the suffocating pressure at his ultimate des- tination, Q-School, the most stressful tournament in golf.

Just ask John Paul Newport, now the esteemed golf writ- er at the Wall Street Journal. In his mid-30s he was a pretty good golfer who one day fell into the zone and shot a 69. He became obsessed with, he says, “the question of if you can shoot one 69, why can’t you do it every time.” In the late-90s

he devoted a year to explor- ing this idea, playing mini tours and ultimately writing the book “The Fine Green Line.” It culminates with him trying to play his way through Q-School. Look- ing back now on his first round there, Newport says, “I was absolutely terrified.” In the minutes before tee- ing off he became obsessed with adjusting his socks, and then, standing on the tee, he decided to rearrange his golf bag. Newport was so over- whelmed emotionally, it’s no surprise he went out and shot 92.

Can McLaughlin do

better? Time will tell. To read his blog posts and tweets, he remains upbeat and motivated and resolute about seeing his experiment through. (He is supporting himself with a nest egg he had saved for grad school, but also runs advertising on his website and accepts dona- tions; hundreds of individuals have contributed.) For all the different ways to quantify performance, ultimately it is intangibles that will deter- mine the success of the Dan Plan. “Having the heart of a Gary Player is more impor- tant than having the body of a Dustin Johnson,” says Leadbetter. “On its face, what this fellow is trying to do is the longest of longshots. But we can’t see what’s on the inside of him, and that’s what really matters.”

Dan McLaughlin remains upbeat, motivated and resolute about seeing his experiment through.

ALAN SHIPNUCK is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated and writes two weekly columns for

FALL 2013 / NCGA.ORG / 29

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