The amateur Public Links championship is a delightfully low-pressure tournament year in and year out, but the 32nd renewal at the Hershey Park Golf Club in Hershey, Pa. saw some very high-pressure golf displayed by an 18-year-old Indianapolis boy named Don Essig III who has just finished his freshman year at Louisiana State University. This 6-foot, 140-pound Hoosier has been one of the Midwest's outstanding junior golfers for several years but until now never quite emerged as a national figure.
He captured the Public Links championship of the United States last week by hitting some marvelous iron shots and one-putting 12 greens to bring down little Gene Towry, a laconic 28-year-old student in electrical engineering at SMU. Essig (German for "vinegar") won 6 and 5 in the final.
Before coming to Hershey, Don had taken both the Indiana State and Western Junior titles. At the tournament he won his first three matches without being seriously extended. His first real test came in the quarter finals against the defending champion Junie Buxbaum, a canny, 41-year-old ex-touring pro who had been advancing steadily through round after round with consistent par golf. Essig, hanging on with a nice display of all-round hitting, was one up after 17, but Buxbaum birdied the par 5 18th to even the match and send it into extra holes. Here it appeared as if the courageous young Hoosier was going to be eliminated despite all his tenacity. But then he showed with dramatic abruptness what a fine golfer he really is. After hitting a mediocre drive on the 415-yard uphill first hole, he snatched his ball out of a tight, heavily clovered lie with a squarely hit five-iron. The ball hung high above the sloping plateaued green, then plunked down not more than eight feet from the cup. This unnerved the usually steady Buxbaum to such an extent that he pulled his approach to the lower left side of the green where it kicked sickeningly out of bounds for hole and match. "There's no question about which was my toughest match," Essig said after the tournament's end. "It was with Buxbaum. What happened there made everything else possible."
Made possible were two relatively anticlimactic 36-hole matches with Don Sckrabulis of Kewanee, Ill. in the semifinal and with Towry in the final. In the semis the champion-to-be and the 26-year-old Illinois boiler factory laborer, who bears a remarkable facial resemblance to Amateur Golfer Harvie Ward, played some sloppy golf until Essig ended the agony on the 33rd green.
Against Towry in the final, Essig was inspired by a vociferous rooting section which included his mother, father and 17-year-old fiancé of six months, Barbara Hankins, a shapely, blue-eyed little blonde sporting a fluffy pony tail. With Barbara squealing delightedly on the sidelines, Essig ran down several long putts and played some exquisite short pitches.
After it was all over, the energetic Miss Hankins bounced around the press room, chattering gaily and trying to read all the nice words that were being sent out about her Donnie. Unless someone locks her in the ladies' lounge, she will have ample opportunity to do the same at a good many tournaments to come.
THE LAST 16
Don Essig III, 18, student at LSU, Indianapolis.
Gene Towry, 28, graduate student at SMU, Dallas.
Don Sckrabulis, 26, boiler factory laborer, Kewanee, Ill.
J. Paul Popovic, 39, special insurance agent, San Francisco.
Walter Gilliam, 36, clothing store manager, Burlingame, Calif.
Junie Buxbaum, 41, electric appliance sales counselor, Memphis.
Bud Kivett, 34, U.S. mail carrier, High Point, N.C.
Dr. Sam Valuck, 34, osteopathic physician and surgeon, Denver.
Elmer Clites, 42, papermaker, Antioch, Calif.
Robert Tolf, 26, apprentice electrician, Scarsdale, N.Y.
Woodrow Ball, 38, graduate student at U. of Oregon, Portland, Ore.
Jack Chun, 48, plumber, Honolulu.
Eddie Schnurr, 16, student at St. Xavier H.S., Louisville.
Robert Denton, 22, golf course starter, Peoria, Ill.
Tom Jenkins, 22, plumber's apprentice, Jacksonville.
George Roddy Sr., 48, schoolteacher, Indianapolis.