PGA Tour suspended play after JFK assassination

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The murder of John F. Kennedy rendered golf, as well as most athletic and other activities, insignificant.

Jack Nicklaus, like almost every person of a certain age still living, recalled with distinct clarity that afternoon a half-century ago.

"I remember exactly where I was," Nicklaus said several years after John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, according to "I was in Lafayette, Louisiana, playing in the Cajun Classic."

The Cajun Classic Open Invitational was the last event on the PGA Tour schedule from 1958-1968 and an unlikely, back-country venue for an epic contest between Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer in 1964, when both men were vying for the money title. As memorable as the duel between the 35-year-old Palmer and fourth-year pro Nicklaus was, and Sports Illustrated captured the tilt eloquently, participants in the tourney a year earlier were more likely to relive the events of the 1963 contest on the Dick Wilson-designed Oakbourne Country Club course.

Golf, which the athletic JFK pursued with skill and finesse, was rendered inconsequential after word of the president’s death -- decades before 24-hour news cycles, the web, cell phones, and social media -- began slowly filtering to the players, many of whom were midway through their rounds that Friday.

With golf one of his many athletic pursuits, JFK reportedly planned to ask Arnold Palmer to help him with his game, according to (Video: YouTube)

"All of those players still remember they were at Oakbourne when they heard that news," local golfer Ben Freeman later told the Advertiser about the sedate proceedings that carried on after a day’s hiatus.

With parents and kids glued to their television sets as the numbing drama of the immediate aftermath of Kennedy’s death, the state funeral, and murder of suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald unfolded in black and white, sports organizations across the country wrangled with how to deal with the national tragedy.

Some college football games went on as scheduled that Saturday. Then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle made the fateful determination to field teams two days after the assassination, a decision those who knew him say haunted him the rest of his life but one of which JFK confidants believed the late president would have approved.

Many participants described the experiences of playing games during a time of national mourning as surreal but it’s unlikely any of the athletes will ever forget them.

In the hinterlands of Lafayette, La., on a track in a place that SI described as "Endsville," golf was called off on Saturday. It was the only time until the 9/11 terrorist attacks that any non-weather event caused a postponement or cancellation of a tour competition.

After a 36-hole marathon finish on Sunday, Nicklaus finished in a tie for fifth behind journeyman Rex Baxter's game-winning 13-under and as the second golfer (behind Palmer, who did not compete that week) ever to earn more than $100,000 in prize money in a calendar year.

"We played unnoticed today," The Advocate quoted Baxter as saying on Nov. 24, 1963, after he posted a barely recollected two-shot victory over Bob Shave Jr.

It was Baxter’s one and only claim to fame on the PGA Tour.


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