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It’s hard to think of a time that two players took more similar paths to success than Carbondale’s Drew Hudgins and Benton’s Brendan Luster.

Hudgins averaged over 100 strokes per round as a freshman. Luster didn’t even take up the game until seventh grade, and then only because he was looking for something to do besides play video games.

Hard work paid off for both. They will share the 22nd Southern Illinois Boys Golf Player of the Year award, the first time co-POYs have been named since 2010. Hudgins is the first Carbondale golfer to be honored, and Luster is the fourth Benton athlete to earn the award.

“It means a lot because he’s obviously a very good player,” Hudgins said of sharing the award with Luster. “I’ve competed with him many times. He’s one of the people I thought was one of the best golfers around here.”

There was nothing to differentiate the two golfers in postseason. Hudgins shot a 72 at the Class 2A Marion Regional, losing medalist in a playoff with Herrin’s Drew Ringel, and Luster carded a 73.

In the sectionals at Hickory Ridge, Luster finished with a 75 and Hudgins earned the final spot into the state tournament with a 78. The two then tied for third place under tough conditions at the state tournament in Normal, each shooting 72. 

The first day of the 36-hole event was canceled by snow with about half the field still on the course. The round which was played started with temperatures around 40 degrees and just enough wind to make everyone uncomfortable.

Luster’s round fueled the Rangers’ run at a team title. They ultimately finished in second place, a stroke behind Charleston.

“It meant a lot,” Luster said of the team’s success. “We got together as a team this year and bought into it. We all had one goal in mind. It was a lot easier, because all you had to do was your job.”

How did Luster do his job? To paraphrase Allen Iverson, we’re talking about practice. And lots of it. He’s had to refine his swing and beat a lot of balls to get to this point.

Benton coach Reggie Norman said the best thing about Luster’s rise is that there’s still plenty of ceiling left for him.

“Where he’s at now and where he’s going to go is really exciting,” Norman said. “You could tell when he came to us in eighth grade that he was going to get long and lean, and could get levers that other kids can’t create. He’ll be powerful.”

Hudgins has that power Norman talks about with Luster, but took his game up to another level when he became a better putter and chipper. Hudgins said that work paid off in the state tournament, when he kept a potentially tough round in check with his short game.

Birdies on his last three holes allowed Hudgins to tie Luster at 72.

“I put in a lot of work during the season and it started to show as the season progressed,” Hudgins said. “I felt like working on my putting was a big part of it, and it allowed me to do well at state. It kept my round going.”

Hudgins’ breakthrough season is earning him some college interest. Carbondale coach Jared Cook says he’d be a good get for someone.

“There’s tons of room to improve,” he said of Hudgins. “He has come a long way in a short time. He has taken all the steps one needs to take in order to improve.”

Luster’s golf future will take him back to where it started. A house fire forced his family to move from Benton to a condo near Rend Lake Golf Resort. He picked up his stepfather’s clubs one day, hit a few balls and was hooked.

Luster will play for Rend Lake College next year, just a long 3-wood away from where he first swung a club.

“I just like seeing the results of putting in more work,” Luster said.

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