Saturday, August 30, 2014

Will Dan McLaughlin be a professional golfer by 2018? [non-China]

The efforts of Dan McLaughlin to become a professional golfer through sheer determination are fascinating for anyone who's wondered about the roots of high ability. Given that he's already more than halfway through his 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, I wondered if it was possible to say by now whether or not he'll succeed.

CIW: Sports: Dan McLaughlin from Chicago Ideas Week on Vimeo.
Dan's goal is to have a "plus handicap", a.k.a. one less than 0, by the end of his 10,000 hours, which will occur sometime in 2018. Here's the plot of his handicap over the past two years [source]:

As we can see, Dan's handicap seems to be descending fairly linearly. Let's see what happens if it continues at the same average rate until 2018:

This is probably Dan's best-case scenario: he hits professional level somewhere around August of 2016, and continues getting better and better through the rest of his 10,000 hours.

However, it may be unrealistic to expect a lack of diminishing returns for Dan's practice. Using a power curve for the trendline gives us this result:

But the nature of a power curve is that it never goes below 0, which may be too pessimistic. If we adjust the data up by 10 points, suggesting that a -10 handicap might be the limit of human performance, we get this line:

In this case, Dan's handicap hits the 0 mark [10 with the new axes] around June of 2017, within his original goal range.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it seems that our conclusions fit the model we choose. The lesson to be drawn? Perhaps, that interpreting data is a subjective process.

As for Dan's performance, perhaps we'll just have to wait and see. But regardless of which model we choose, Dan will do pretty well in the end. Whether or not he becomes a professional by his stated date, it's inspiring that someone with no initial ability can get as good as it seems he will. I wish him the best of luck. 


  1. Well done, great to see the analysis. Go Dan! I am with you all the way.
    I would love to turn on my TV and see you playing! Keep the faith.

  2. Perhaps you can offer the same analysis for Tiger Woods or other pros, though much of the data on how they progressed prior to being pro is fairly anecdotal. I would be very interested to see of they show a similar handicap/progress trajectory.