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 in September, at age 87, triggered 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 fall.
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.
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.
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 had previously said 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.”