Other than golf, my big obsessions are history, toy soldiers, economics and epidemiology (yes, I know its weird). Recently, two of those intersected when an article on the Freakonomics blog discussed the efforts of Dan McLaughlin to make the Tour after 10,000 hours of practice.
The ten thousand hours comes from a theory of Anders Ericsson he covered in his book The Road To Excellence: The Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, Sports, and Games. What Ericsson says the difference between elite performers and the average Joe is about 10,000 hours of practice.
Not only is this pursuit unusual, his methods are also:
The golf pro who has been guiding him had a very unusual plan, to say the least. For the first six month of Dan’s golfing life, he was only allowed to putt. We are literally talking about Dan standing on a putting green for 6-8 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week, hitting one putt after another. That is nearly 1,000 hours of putting before he ever touched another club. Then he was given a wedge. He used just the wedge and the putter for another few months, before he got an 8 iron. It wasn’t until a year and a half into his golfing life – 2,000 hours of practice – that he hit a driver for the first time.
Stephen Levitt, the Freakonomics author, however, has his own take on this:
I understand the basic logic of starting close to the hole (most shots in golf, after all, do occur close to the hole), but to my economist’s mind, this sounds like a very bad strategy for at least two reasons. First, one of the most basic tenets of economics is what we call diminishing marginal returns. The first little bit of something yields big returns; the more you do of something, the less valuable it is. For example, the first ice cream cone is delicious. The fourth is nauseating. The same must be true of putting. The first half hour is fun and engaging. By the eighth straight hour, it must be mind-numbing. I just can’t imagine a person could focus that single-mindedly on putting, not just one day, but for months and months on end. Second, my own experience suggests that there are spillovers across different aspects of golf. Things you feel when chipping help inform the full swing. Sometimes I can feel what I should be doing with a driver, and that helps me with my irons. Sometimes it is the opposite. To be putting and chipping for months without any idea what a full swing is – that just seems wrong to me.
I see what Levitt is saying, but Ericsson’s method is quite similar to what I used to do with the brand new girl golfers I got to sign up for my high school team. Most had never held a club, and I had to get them to where they could get around a course in a match in just a couple of weeks. So we worked on the putter incessantly. I figured at worse, they would putt their way from tee to green. Then we worked exclusively on chipping and then on pitching. We never did really get around to the full swing before the season started. But that was enough for the beginners. Four or five pitches of 75 to 100 yards each, a chip and a couple of putts, and they could double bogey a par five. I know big hitters who can’t double bogey a par five. We only got into trouble when a hole required a long carry off the tee.
Im interested in seeing how Dan’s project turns out. He’s got at blog at The Dan Plan.