For each of the 30 years – 31 seasons – that Greg Santora coached golf at Capital High School, he kept a notebook recording team records, individual season scoring averages and state finishes. It’s the chronicles of the Cougars, a remarkable collection of every scorecard from every dual match from 1980 to 2010.
“Let’s see, Jimmy Johnson, what were you doing, dude, in 1987?” Santora said playfully. “All these names make me think back.”
He flipped page after page of scorecards and score sheets, spotted Johnson’s numbers and began reading scores, season averages and placements at state.
“Stats tell you a lot of things,” Santora said.
This is the passion of Capital’s only golf coach since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. This is the passion of one of the winningest golf coaches in the state.
After compiling a gaudy 253-37 record in duals, after sending at least one golfer to state for 31 straight seasons and after being inducted into the Washington State Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1999, Santora is retiring.
“It’s going to be hard not to be the Cougars’ golf coach,” Santora said. “I spent half my life coaching golf at Capital. It’s time for a change.”
Four years ago, Santora, who’ll continue to teach elementary physical education, decided that he’d stop coaching 30 years after he started.
“Honestly, I never thought I’d be coaching for 30 years,” Santora said.
But after Capital, led by Radd Lukas, won the state title in each of Santora’s first two years as coach, Santora was hooked.
“It’s been an incredible ride,” Santora said. “It’s been fun. I enjoyed it.”
Santora’s win-loss record is among the best in the state. His teams once won 85 straight dual matches, going without a defeat from 1981-1984. His teams won state titles in 1980, ’81, ’83, ’84, ’88 and ’99. Three of his golfers – Lukas, Jeff Jackson and Andres Gonzales – won individual state titles.
Winning begot winning … and interest. In 1996, 76 players turned out for Santora’s golf team, more than the school’s football team. The state championships created a winning tradition and winning expectations.
Santora never finished with a losing record. After finishing 11-1 in 1990 with a senior-dominated team, his team slipped to 4-4 in 1991, his worst finish.
“I’m competitive. I like to win,” Santora said. “My goal was to have the best program in the state of Washington.”
Santora coached long enough to coach sons of players he had coached.
Devin Kanda, who played on the Capital team that finished fourth in the state in 1978, just missed playing for Santora. But both of Kanda’s sons, Tyler and Kyle, played for Santora.
Kanda watched Santora’s kid-friendly approach to coaching that emphasized winning with class.
“He’s very dedicated to the kids,” Kanda said. “He’s passionate about what he does. I like the relationship he has with the kids.”
Santora also always paid attention to details. He brought snacks for his players to eat during duals, he took video of his players’ swings to help them improve, and at the end of the season, he gave each one a DVD of their season.
“Greg is one of a kind,” Kanda said. “The school is going to dearly miss him as a golf coach. We feel very fortunate our two boys went through his program.”
Santora’s commitment and attention to detail didn’t erode with time. Even when his wife, Gail, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in September, Santora remained upbeat, the perpetual encourager. His wife, a kindergartener teacher, has recovered and is doing well. Santora admitted that it was a difficult year, but it didn’t show.
“With what his wife went through, you’d think he’d be edgy. But he wasn’t,” said Jodi Kanda, Kyle’s mom. “I never heard anything negative about him. He had such a great relationship with the kids.”
Santora never put up the barriers that some coaches use to maintain the aura of authority. Instead, Santora joked with his players. He had a close rapport with his teams.
“They liked to be with him.” Jodi Kanda said. “At state, they said, ‘Come on coach, lets go to McDonald’s.’ ”
And he went.
At the 3A state tournament last month, Kanda watched her son sink his last putt, ending his and his coach’s high school careers. The four Capital players at state wore armbands with “30” written on them, honoring Santora’s 30 years of coaching.
“I don’t think he did it for the money. He did it because his heart was in it,” Jodi Kanda said.
Santora talks glowingly about his father, Jim, a plumber who was an avid and talented golfer. A black-and-white picture of his father standing beside three friends on a golf course hangs in his garage. Santora also has his father’s clubs, a set of Walter Hagens.
“I didn’t have the talent my dad had golfing,” Santora said. “But I knew I could be a good coach if I worked at it.”
After graduating from Washington State University, Santora began teaching special education P.E. in the Olympia School District in 1976. Four years later, he began coaching golf at Capital, beginning his almost annual run to the state tournament.
“I just want to say thanks to all the parents and all the players,” Santora said. “I enjoyed every moment.”