HONOLULU - There was no tactful way of asking the question, so after Stewart Cink finished off his second-round 69 at the Sony Open with a birdie on the final hole, I just spit it out.
“So, do you know that, um, your head is, uh, going viral?”
It may not be the most hard-hitting query I’ve ever posed to a major champion, but at least it was relevant. One day earlier, Cink tapped in a putt on his final hole, then removed his hat and shook hands with playing partners Marc Leishman and Michael Thompson. These few seconds were shown live on Golf Channel’s telecast, revealing an incredible tan line where the back of Cink’s hat had been. While his neck was a deep tan, his bald head was a pasty white.
Within minutes, a screen grab of the moment swept across social media. People who didn’t care anything about the Sony Open or Stewart Cink or even golf in general were marveling at this decided line of demarcation.
By Friday morning, thousands of people around the world had seen it and commented on it. But one question remained: Did Cink even know?
“I did see the replay last night of one of my shots that they showed and it’s the first thing I noticed, too,” he said Friday. “Like, wow. My head looked like it was glowing. You know, this time of year, when we come out to Hawaii with the strong sun, I just tan really easily everywhere except, obviously, under this hat. I can’t help it. I fight the battle of bad tan line. I don’t know what else to do.”
In case you couldn’t tell from that comment, not only was Cink willing to speak about being the butt of the latest Internet joke, he did so good-naturedly, even laughing at himself.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s always been a willing participant in some witty banter – and he knows his way around social media. When it comes to Twitter, Cink is the OG (Original Golfer), with more than 1.1 million followers since joining over five years ago.
In fact, maybe the biggest surprise is that other tweeters beat him to the punchline.
“If it was somebody else, I probably would have tweeted about it, too, because it caught my attention and it was funny,” he explained. “And it’s harmless. It’s just an easy thing to sort of laugh at and poke fun at. It’s fine with me. I know it looks silly. But it’s enough of a battle for me.”
The question now is: What happens next?
As one Twitter user suggested, since we’ve already endured Dufnering, will this be the start to a new craze called Cinking? “Dufnering is a little easier to imitate on the spot,” Cink said. “It’s hard to do this. This takes years. You’ve got to have commitment. If someone treats this like Dufnering, I’ll definitely give them a high five.”
Well, maybe it will catch on in other ways. Kikkor Golf has already introduced the “Cink or Swim Golf Cap” to its online product line. For a mere $15, you, too, can look just like Cink. (Description: “Don’t bother investing in hours and hours of sunbathing when you can have a natural looking ‘golf cap’ of your own. Comes in three colour options to provide the perfect contrast.”) Only problem? It’s already sold out.
Cink, though, is hoping to cash in for himself. He figures the attention from his excessive tan line should be enough to claim an endorsement deal – with a company that produces spray tans.
“For sure, I’m already thinking that way,” he laughed. “I want to go spray tan. I can’t do it on the golf course, because I sweat too much. But I owe it to my wife, Lisa, to not have this stupid looking tan line when we go out on a date and she has to sit and endure that.”
Somewhere amongst these head-related questions, I asked Cink about his golf game. He’s only a month removed from winning the PNC Father/Son Challenge with his son, Connor. And so far this week, he’s posted a pair of under-par rounds, showing glimpses of the player who famously stole the claret jug away from Tom Watson back in 2009.
But it didn’t take long for us to circle back to that unfortunate tan line. I thought it might have been a source of pride – maybe the more palpable the line, the more it shows he’s been grinding away on the practice range – but sadly, even that isn’t the case.
“It’s not a source of anything,” he said. “When we’re at our lake house in the summer, I can spend two weeks out on the boat with no hat and it gets nice and even. Then 30 minutes on the range and it gets like this. I need to spend time outside without a hat on to get it even, but it’s impossible. I can’t play catch-up when the sun is this strong.”
At that point, we ended the interview. I thanked him for being a good sport while he rubbed the back of his head, as if that would somehow make it all go away.
Before he left, I reminded him that, hey, at least I asked him something about his golf game at one point, too.
“That’s true,” he answered. “I don’t know what it was, but you did. I was just happy to talk about my tan line.”