I’m confused. Strictly speaking, this is not a unique state for me. However, I ran across an article last week about a young man who has made himself a case study for improving his golf game based on a scientific theory. His name is Dan. Two years ago, at the age of 30, he quit his job – not to pursue a career in professional golf, but to chase something a little different: golf excellence.
Based on a theory on expertise called the Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, Dan outlined a plan to spend 10,000 hours working on his golf game in an effort to become an “expert golfer.” The math on that is basically six hours a day, six days a week, for six years. The 912-page handbook (clearly editing is not part of any expertise here) basically espouses that talent has little to do with expertise. That’s the part that is confusing to me.
I grant you that talent is not quantifiable, much in the same way that beauty and potential in humans is not quantifiable. When the other players on the PGA Tour say that Rory McIIroy is the most talented player in the game, what are they really saying? They are looking beyond his considerable physical ability to the intangibles that they know must be present in a great player. They are looking at natural ability, creativity and toughness. They are talking about the ability to repeat a motion and then slightly alter that motion to produce the desired shot. They are talking about beauty and grace in the most graceful of games.
The opposite has been said of Tiger lately. No one ever has questioned his talent, but in recent years he either has over-thought or overworked his talent. Not having been on the practice tee with Tiger and his team, perhaps that seems an unfair statement to make. We can agree that victories are not a complete measure of talent. However, at least in Tiger’s case, he made victories the only measuring stick, and using that logic, he has been falling short of his immense talent level of late.
The truth is that every player on the PGA Tour has talent, whatever that is. The ability to master an unnatural motion to manipulate a ball into the hole is not simply an acquired skill. It requires some innate ability to do what others have done and then requires a curiosity to find a unique way that works for you. In other words it takes hard work AND talent.
Bubba Watson is the posterboy at the moment for natural talent. He not only blows the Cambridge handbook’s theories out of the water, he blows most of the game’s conventionality to smithereens as well. You can’t become the next Bubba Watson in six years any more than you can become the next Tiger, Phil or Rory in that span.
There are people out there who believe that given the time and the opportunity, they could become Tour players. Some of those people may be right. However, who among us is willing to put in 10,000 hours over six years in hopes of making that happen? Our man Dan is at least a third of the way there. But Dan hardly is alone. Turn on the television on Sunday afternoon to watch the final round of any golf tournament, and you’ll see men and women who have put in at least that much work, if not more. (I’ll even list a pro’s typical work week at the bottom of this column.)
I realize that in some way, in stating this, I am supporting the Handbook’s proposal. The difference is that the experts that I’m talking about (successful professional golfers) understand their talent and how to use it to improve. Veteran Brandt Jobe recently said that you have to be in the top 10 percent in some aspect of the game to be tour player. Whether it’s length, accuracy, short game or putting where a player thrives is where his talent is most evident. The hours a professional spends on his game are used to improve the areas in which he is less talented. Discovering your talent is the easy part. Maximizing it while doggedly working on the weaker parts of your game becomes the lifelong pursuit of every tour player.
But most of us aren’t tour players.
I wish Dan luck, and I also wish that someone else is as crazy as he is to drop everything and spend so many hours working on his game. If so, it would be evident early on that one player was improving at a more rapid rate than the other. That improvement or mastery would be quantifiable – and could only be attributed to talent.
Curious what a typical week for a Tour Player might look like? Here goes:
Monday: Travel and practice for 2-4 hours
Tuesday: Practice round (5 hours) and 2-3 hours practicing before and after
Wednesday: Pro Am (5 ½ hours), plus 2-3 hours practice
Thursday through Sunday: Tournament rounds (4 ½ to 5 ½ hours) preceded by 1-hour warmup; round followed by 1-2 hours post-round practice.
The above schedule is conservative, but a rough average. Some guys do more, some a little less , but this estimate does not include gym time, nor communication with an instructor, psychologist, agent or media members. It’s easily a 50-hour week for most tour players at a tournament.
(For more information on Dan you can check out www.thedanplan.com)