By Zach Baron | GQ Sports
One day this spring, George Gankas was telling me about his brief and not very illustrious career as a pro golfer. This was in the late ’90s, after Gankas had graduated from college, at Cal State Northridge. The short version was his driver let him down—he was plenty long, but he had a tendency to block or hook the ball on tight courses—and so did his brain. It was only years later, after he got into teaching, that he got a handle on his own flaws as a player. “A lot of it was ego,” he said in retrospect. “Being afraid to either look stupid or play a bad round.”
But Gankas had always been a little obsessed with the golf swing—how it worked, or didn’t work—and what he found was that more and more people were coming to him for advice about it. So he became an instructor. First at Moorpark, a golf course 50 miles west of Los Angeles, and then—after a client, Janet Jones Gretzky, wife of the hockey player Wayne, asked him if he’d start giving lessons closer to her house—at a place called Westlake. It was there that Gankas began building a wide-ranging roster of clients that came to include the entire Gretzky family, thousands of amateurs of varying ability, and after a time, a promising 14-year-old junior player with a chaotic swing named Matthew Wolff, who found a spot near Gankas on the Westlake range one day. “I just started hitting balls,” Wolff told me, “and he looked over at me and said, ‘Dude, is that your real swing?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, man.’ He said, ‘That is the sickest swing I’ve ever seen.’ ”
Wolff’s busy motion was more baseball than golf; he looked like a major leaguer preparing to hit a fastball. But this did not seem like a problem to Gankas, who was beginning to develop a reputation for repudiating much of the modern orthodoxy about what a golf swing should or should not be. The two got along and formed a partnership that endures. Today, Wolff, at 22—with that same weird action he had at 14—is a PGA Tour winner who has been ranked as high as 12th in the world. Meanwhile, Gankas, who still teaches at Westlake, has become one of the most famous and influential golf instructors on the planet.