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For Brad Hammond, the barrier was invisible, yet real.

No matter how good his round was going, something would always happen to spoil it. He could play 17 of the best holes possible — perfect tee shots, accurate irons, good putting — and somewhere, things would go haywire and a 70 would become a 75.

And then one hot September day, the narrative changed. Seventeen good holes became 18. His 70 that used to end up as a 75 became a 67.

“It proved to me I can shoot lower scores and gave me a lot of confidence,” he said of that round at the Benton Invitational.

It also led to a Class 2A regional title, a seventh place finish at the state tournament and the Southern Illinoisan Boys Golfer of the Year Award.

Hammond becomes the fifth Benton golfer to win the honor, but just the second to win it outright, joining Bryce Doughty in 2009. The lefthanded senior posted the sixth-lowest season scoring average in school history this year at 37.26 strokes per nine holes, and finished his career at 38.36 per nine holes, fourth in school history.

The eighth Ranger to earn All-State honors, his score of 146 at the state tournament represented the best two-day score in program history.

“I think somewhere along the line in the middle of the season, he decided he was good enough to be a college golfer,” Benton coach Reggie Norman said. “And he saw just how good he could be. He released himself and started playing free and easy at the Benton Invitational.

“He’s been a good golfer, but the last half of his senior year, he became a special player. Something flipped in his head that he could be really good.”

No longer did Hammond give in to the thought that 75 could be a good day for him. One way he did so was to no longer approach the round as though it was one 18-hole entity. He treated it as two 9-hole rounds.

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Much in the way that a basketball player — Hammond is a shooting guard for the Rangers’ hoops squad — might look at a 10-point deficit and think about one stop at a time, he played each hole for what it was. One hole, no more, no less.

“If I made a couple of bogeys early, I can go out and get them back,” he said. “If I was under par or even (through 9 holes) that’s great, but I still have 9 more holes left. It really helped me in the regional tournament.”

On that sunny, windy Monday at Crab Orchard Golf Course in Carterville, the elements accentuated the course’s tight fairways. Par became an unthinkable mark for almost everyone, even Hammond.

But he persevered and kept hitting fairways with a driver that was locked in. Even though his putting wasn’t on point, his accuracy led to a 74 and a regional title. After helping Benton win the Charleston Sectional, Hammond fired a 1-under 70 in the first round of the state tourney before falling back on the second day.

Still, it capped a career that Norman says will easily go down as one of the top 10 in school history. Given the amount of good players that have passed through that program in the last decade, that says something.

“A heck of an accomplishment,” Norman said. “He had a great season.”

Hammond, who will likely head for the junior college ranks next year, happily noted one other fact about his senior year. He started the season ranking just behind his father, Rob, in stroke average per round.

He finished the year ahead of his dad.

“I’ve thought about that all four years,” he said, the grin evident even over the phone. “That’s something I’m going to let him hear about.”

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