Augusta, Georgia (USA), Apr 13 (AP) Camilo Villegas wasn't just trying to refine his golf swing as he prepared to play in the Masters for the first time in nine years.

He was constantly checking the fine print on the ingredients in sunscreen. It reached a point a few weeks ago when the 42-year-old Colombian was trying three brands — one for his face, another for his arms, and a third for his legs during practice rounds when PGA Tour players can wear shorts.

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Nothing is left to chance.

“The first one I realized was more of a cosmetic. It didn't really work as strong as I wanted,” Villegas said. “I'm trying a Korean brand now, and that has worked pretty good.”

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Skin cancer has his attention — along with many of his fellow golfers.

There seems to be a renewed emphasis on sun protection. Golfers are more exposed to the sun for longer periods than players in any other sport. The weekday rounds last five hours. Throw in an hour of practice before the round, sometimes after, and it adds up quickly.

“The amount of time we spend in the sun, you've got to protect yourself,” Villegas said. “The sun is burning you.”

No need to tell Stewart Cink. He was walking off the practice range at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida, last month when he was asked why sun protection was important to him.

“Well, as someone whose maternal grandmother passed away from melanoma, and someone who's out in the sun a whole lot and someone who already had a big chunk of stuff cut off the side of my face,” he said, pausing to smile.

“It very important, not to mention what my wife is going through with her (breast cancer) treatment. It would be dumb not to.”

The American Academy of Dermatology estimates one in five Americans will develop skin cancer. The non-melanoma variety, such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, affects three million Americans a year.

Sunscreen is just one form of protection.

Stephanie Kyriacou of Australia has always been conscious of the effects of the sun. But, a turning point during her amateur days was meeting a woman at home Down Under who invited her to a factory in Queensland.

That was her introduction to Australia-based “SParms,” which makes sun protection sleeves that have become enormously popular on the LPGA Tour.

The sleeves are made of high-tech fabric with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of at least 50, meaning it blocks 98% of the sun's rays. The sleeves can go up the arm and wrap around the shoulder blade.

“Like a lot of girls out here, I'm aware of my skin,” Kyriacou said. “Sunscreen on my face and SParms on my arms. And, I like to wear pants unless it's boiling hot.”

Now, there are some 60 players at any given tournament wearing sun sleeves.

Kyriacou estimates she's in the sun for at least seven or eight hours a day, and the 23-year-old Aussie has been playing since she was 4.

That's typical of most tour players. They have spent practically their entire lives in the sun, facing the ultraviolet rays that can cause so much damage.

Exposure to the sun's ultraviolet light raises the risk of skin cancer, the most common and one of the most preventable types of cancer.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and one that is “broad spectrum,” meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

“I don't think I wore sunscreen ever,” Cink said. “You know, we used to wear suntan lotion or oil that would intensify the sun so you would get tan. I don't think I wore anything protective at least until I got on tour.”

It wasn't until he was 45 that Cink fully understood the danger. He had a basal cell carcinoma removed from the side of his nose in 2018. And now, it's not just any sunscreen he uses.

“I am not a big fan of chemical sunscreen,” he said, referring to the more common brands. “I like the physical barriers, the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. I look for something that has a high concentration of those two. You can find them if you search.”

Villegas found it on an app called Yuka, which deciphers product labels and analyzes the impact of food and cosmetics. That includes sunscreen.

“It's not perfect. You've got to do some analysis,” Villegas said. “But, it gives you options. It's not like it takes you to a website to purchase something — that would make me sceptical. You compare products yourself and do the analysis.”

Skin cancer doesn't discriminate, so golfers of colour also are seeking protection.

Xander Schauffele has darker skin, the son of a Taiwanese-born mother and a European father (French and German). He also uses the Yuka app and lately has been going with a product he calls Mr. Seaweed.

“It has less toxic stuff, I've been told by an app,” he said. “Sprays are bad. Cream is the best thing. I look up all that stuff.” (AP)

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