Johnny Sands, who coined famous phrase ‘Arnie’s Army,’ dies at 87

Johnny Sands, a longtime Augusta newspaperman often credited with coining the phrase “Arnie’s Army” to describe Arnold Palmer’s golf fans, died Friday at age 87.

“I’ll never forget Johnny Sands when he arrived at The Chronicle in the late 1950s from the Orlando Sentinel,” said Bill Baab, who also began working at the newspaper in the 1950s. “He was asked to write a golf column and the name he picked was a natural: Sand Traps.

“Always easy to work with and very personable,” Baab said.

Sands, a military veteran nicknamed “Sandman,” began in 1958 as assistant sports editor and held a number of newsroom roles until his retirement in 1988. These included wire editor and news editor.

“Sandman was a consummate newspaper man,”said close friend Christine Hurley Deriso. “Just an exquisite wordsmith and a dear, dear person with a huge heart.”

A native of Boston, Sands was known as an old-school craftsman on the news desk where he designed the newspaper’s front page for many years, always maintaining a sharp focus on words and their most efficient use.

That would explain his connection to one of golf’s favorite phrases.

“It was very simple,” Sands said in an interview after Palmer’s death in 2016.

He was editing a column written by Chronicle sports editor Johnny Hendrix and needed a subhead, the smaller headline newspapers use to break up text.

Hendrix had written a description of the young Palmer’s fans following him around and looking like “a battalion,” Sands said.

“I liked the image, but it wasn’t snappy enough.”

Alliteration was prized in newspaper writing of the day, Sands said, so he began to weigh phrases that would have the double “A” — “Arnie’s A ….”

Battallion made him think of “Army,” said Sands.

He said he showed it to Hendrix and asked if he was OK with the headline, subhead and other editing, and Hendrix said, “Sure.”

Over the years, Sands has been given credit for the phrase, probably starting with a Pittsburgh sports writer who covered Palmer as a successful local athlete, and once did a golf column about the birth of “Arnie’s Army.”

But Sands said he never really wanted to make a big deal about it.

“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.”

Not only The Chronicle, but other newspapers, the Associated Press and photographers looking for a description in their picture captions used it to describe Palmer’s crowds of fans. Palmer won the Masters Tournament four times.

Sands said he couldn’t remember the year this happened, and said he and others had searched the microfilm years later but could never find the prized subhead. He said sometimes the newspaper composing room changed such things or cut them out between editions.

Sands could, however, remember meeting Palmer.

He said he was working for a newspaper in Orlando, Fla., and was sent out to a nearby golf tournament to interview Sam Snead, golf’s big celebrity of the mid-1950s.

He said Snead saw the young Palmer nearby and encouraged Sands to meet him, even making the introductions.

“You’ll be hearing a lot about him,” Snead said.

“Sam Snead was an oracle,” Sands said.

Funeral services will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at Platt’s Crawford Avenue Chapel with Rev. Vernon Knight officiating. Visitation will be held one hour prior to the services at the funeral home.

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