The driving range at Westlake Golf Course outside Los Angeles isn’t where you’d expect to find golf’s hottest swing instructor. Artificial-turf mats and striped range balls greet golfers, not plush grass and Pro V1s. Numbered signs serve as targets and golfers come dressed in everything from jeans and sneakers to swimsuits and flip-flops. Tucking your shirt in is optional, and it may not be a collared shirt.
That suits iconoclastic George Gankas just fine. A burgeoning social-media star and teaching professional who never took a single lesson—nor was taught how to give one—Gankas last November debuted at No. 11 on Golf Digest’s prestigious list of “The 50 Best Teachers in America,” the highest ranking for any first-timer.
Gankas, 49, is challenging the myths about how the golf swing should be taught. His mantra: There’s more than one way to get things done. No better proof exists than Gankas’s star pupil, 2019 NCAA individual champion Matthew Wolff, whose backswing is about as unorthodox as any in golf.
“Normal is not even in his vocabulary,” says Wolff, who began working with Gankas when he was 14. “It’s all about whatever you feel. No matter what swing you have, he’s going to work with it, not try to change you, and yet make you a better player.”
A former high school wrestler who went from shooting “120-something” to the 70s within a year and later earned a partial playing scholarship to Cal State Northridge, Gankas became enamored with the swing and began studying such legends as Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, and Sam Snead, wondering how their swings were so different yet so efficient at impact. While playing on various mini-tours, he caddied at nearby Sherwood Country Club and started giving tips to many of the club’s celebrity members, including Janet Gretzky, wife of “The Great One,” hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. It was Mrs. Gretzky who vouched for Gankas and got him a job at Westlake in 2007.
Gankas quickly gained a reputation for developing junior players and had no problem filling his lesson book. “I had every junior in California who wasn’t any good,” jokes Gankas.
That all changed in 2013, when Gankas started filming “stupid stuff” in his backyard, posting students’ swings on social media just for fun. Before long, he had people coming to Westlake from all over the country—and the world—asking him to dissect their swing and post it on Instagram. Today, Gankas has more than 200,000 followers on Instagram and 50,000 on YouTube. He also has a new subscription-based website full of tips, georgegankas.golf.
“Every kid I taught was like, ‘Dude, can I go on the ’Gram?’” says Gankas. “It got to a different level than I ever thought it would go.”
Social-media stardom had other benefits. Gankas now charges $800 per hour and is booked eight months in advance, which means he’s getting not just top-ranked juniors and college players as students, but CEOs and PGA Tour stars. Besides Wolff, Gankas teaches Padraig Harrington, Sung Kang, and 18-year-old Akshay Bhatia, the former number-one-ranked junior golfer in the world.
“It has created more demand,” says Gankas of all the attention. “I’ve got a lot of very successful people now, and I’m not used to having that crowd. It’s hard work. It really is. I can’t just watch them hit balls and collect a paycheck. That’s not going to work well for me and never would because that’s not my style. I’m going to bust my ass and see to it that they get better. Everyone does get better when they leave.”