Why walking alone at school makes you a better golfer, according to George Gankas
George Gankas is best-known for coaching mega-speed, but he’ll tell you that’s only a small part of his repertoire. The true secrets to his coaching aren’t secrets at all, but unrelenting passion and a focus on connecting and relating to his students. That means diving fully into every detail of the golf swing, but for his juniors it also means remembering the pressures of being a teenager and navigating the social challenges of high school. Where others might see a challenge, Gankas sees an opportunity, and he thinks that facing down some of those pressures can prepare you better for golf — and for life.
Gankas joined Sean Zak and me on this week’s Drop Zone podcast (which you can listen to here) and hit on a broad range of topics, from Padraig Harrington’s spending habits to the nuance golf swing theory to the differences between coaching Tour players and everyday people. But what stuck with me the most was a bit of unconventional advice he gives to his junior students. I can guarantee you’ll relate to it, too.
“I think that’s what most people are afraid of is looking stupid,” Gankas said. “And what I try to do to my players is make them comfortable and be okay with all options, like shanking it off the first tee, looking stupid.
“I have a lot of my kids do drills walking alone at school, ‘cause that’s what dorks do. And then I always put out there, ‘Okay, who’s the coolest guy who walks alone?’ They always go, ‘Jake Merritt.’ I’m all, ‘Why do you think he walks alone?’
“‘Cause he don’t give a s—.'”
I’m all, ‘Exactly. So that’s where you need to go, go walk alone and be secure with yourself.'”
Did you follow all of that? Gankas talks fast and fluid, so I doubled back just to make sure we were on the same page. “Wait,” I asked. “So you tell guys to walk by themselves at school just to practice that feeling?”
“Absolutely,” Gankas said. “Because I remember when I was a kid we’d all wait in groups after school, and you wanna be accepted and all the rest. I think it starts in school, the insecurities start in school, because people are talking s— and you wanna be in the in crowd. And as soon as you can get out of that and get okay with looking stupid and walking alone, I think that you’re on your way to playing better golf. I think that’s the reason people are so afraid — they’re afraid to look dumb.”
In some ways, it felt like Gankas was passing on the approach that has served himself best in his own life. Few (if any) golf instructors thrive more on marching to the beat of their own drum than Gankas, whose high-octane style has made him a sensation. He never looks afraid to look dumb, and for that reason he never does.
The advice was particularly germane because we were recording the podcast just before we took lessons from him in front of the entire GOLF Top 100 Teacher Summit. Some instructors would be nervous about performing in front of his top peers — but not Gankas. He used that same approach in encouraging us not to worry, either.
“Today when you guys are out here, what the worst thing that could happen? You hit s—– balls and people judge you. How’s that honestly going to change your life? How’s that honestly going to change our lives if we all fail out here — if you don’t get more speed and you hit it like s— in front of all these people and they’re all gonna say I suck? I’m still f—– booked, I don’t give a f— what they say.”
That’s the Gankas difference, right there. And you know what? It worked. By the time it was my turn to hit balls in front of the game’s top minds, my mind was fully prepped (even if my swing wasn’t just yet).