Most golf fans know that Herbert Warren Wind coined the phrase “Amen Corner” to describe the 11th, 12th and 13th holes at Augusta National Golf Club.
But who came up with “Arnie’s Army” to describe the legions who followed Arnold Palmer at the Masters and other tournaments?
Palmer’s death last Sunday, at age 87, triggered a flurry of questions about the origin of the phrase.
There are two popular theories on who came up with it, and they are intertwined:
1) The soldiers from nearby Camp Gordon (later Fort Gordon) who were offered free admission to the tournament and also helped man the leaderboards around the course.
2) A pair of employees from The Augusta Chronicle, sports editor Johnny Hendrix and sports writer/copy editor Johnny “Sandman” Sands.
“It was very simple,” Sands said last week.
He was editing a column written by Hendrix and needed a subhead, the smaller headline newspapers use to break up text.
Hendrix had written a description of a young Palmer’s fans following him around and looking like “a battalion,” Sands recalled.
“I liked the image,” he said, “but it wasn’t snappy enough.”
Alliteration was prized in newspaper writing at that time, Sands said, so he began to weigh phrases that would have the double “A.”
Battalion made him think of “Army,” Sands said, and the rest is history.
In a video interview in 2008, Sands gave credit to Hendrix for coming up with the phrase. After it appeared, Sands said The Chronicle regularly used the term and then other outlets, such as the Associated Press, picked it up.
“I never took credit,” Sands said. “If Johnny (Hendrix) had nixed it, it wouldn’t have happened, but that’s how ‘Arnie’s Army’ started and after that we began to use it.”
Sands is now in his late 80s and still lives in Augusta. He said he doesn’t know the whereabouts of Hendrix.
A search of The Chronicle’s digital archives revealed that the term “Arnie’s Army” was first used in print in the April 7, 1961 edition, but it could have appeared earlier or in The Augusta Herald. It was in a headline on an Associated Press article after the opening round of the Masters: “Did ‘Arnie’s Army’ cost Player a stroke on 13th?”
The phrase appeared two more times in 1961. First, in a caption on the front page showing the fans following Palmer in the rained-out Sunday round, and then in a Hendrix column that ran two days after Gary Player won his first Masters. Palmer, by the way, was poised to become the first back-to-back winner but made a double bogey on the final hole.
Dan Jenkins, writing a feature on the Masters and its impact on Augusta before the 1964 tournament, also points to 1961 as the origin of Arnie’s Army.
“It was in 1961, after Palmer had twice won the championship, that Arnie’s Army was born – born in Augusta and fully mobilized,” Jenkins wrote. “As Palmer pursued Gary Player over the final nine holes of that Masters, the throngs were at their trampling, shouting, hurdling best.
“Once, as Arnold bent over a putt a voice from the crowd blurted, ‘Make this one, bubba, and you da leada of da tribe!’ And it was on the big scoreboard near the 11th green that a sign was posted, ‘Go get him, Arnie.’”
In 2004, as Palmer prepared to play his 50th consecutive and final Masters, the tournament media guide included this about Arnie’s Army:
“While the exact origin of Arnie’s Army is uncertain, folklore indicates that the term was first coined in approximately 1959, one year after Palmer’s first of four Masters wins. Local soldiers from then Camp Gordon (now Fort Gordon) manned many of the tournament’s scoreboards, and one soldier displayed a sign announcing the presence of Arnie’s Army.”
The media guide also presented a second option.
“Other accounts suggest the term was first used between 1957 and 1960 and was started by a reporter from either The Augusta Chronicle or Greenville News (S.C.) who was assigned to cover the Masters. In this instance, the term referred to the large crowds that followed Palmer on the golf course.”
Palmer and his longtime assistant, Doc Giffin, have long credited Hendrix and The Chronicle with popularizing the phrase.
“That’s who I have always given credit to for Arnie’s Army,” Giffin wrote in an email Wednesday.
Steven J. Rauch, Signal Corps branch historian at Fort Gordon, also gives credit to The Chronicle for originating the phrase. He wrote that it “soon expanded to all fans of the golf great whose enthusiastic and boisterous support was more like a crowd at a football game than a golf tournament.”
Palmer, who went on to win four Masters, recalled how the soldiers gravitated to him after his first victory in 1958.
“A lot of the soldiers did not necessarily know a lot about golf, but when they found out that I was defending champion (in 1959) they joined my gallery,” Palmer told arniesarmy.org. “That prompted one of the GIs working a back-nine scoreboard to announce the arrival of ‘Arnie’s Army,’ which is what it looked like. I can’t remember another time, other than my stint in the Coast Guard, when so many uniformed soldiers surrounded me. A year later, when I won my second Masters title, I thanked the ‘army’ of supporters who came out to follow me.
“Johnny (Hendrix), a reporter from The Augusta Chronicle, picked up on the phrase and ran the headline ‘Arnie’s Army’ for the first time. Boy, did it ever stick! Before I finished my playing career I think every newspaper, magazine, or television station that covered golf used the phrase at least once.”
Whatever the origin, there is no denying that “Arnie’s Army” energized Palmer. After his final round as a Masters competitor in 2004, Palmer took time to thank the fans.
“I can never tell you how important the fans have been to me, and this connection for 50 years,” Palmer said. “It’s been fantastic.”