Finally, there is a hurdle he cannot clear, the lip of the greenside bunker on No. 7. Without his sand wedge, it takes him four attempts.
Throughout the round at Raspberry Falls Golf & Hunt Club in Leesburg, Renaldo Nehemiah encounters one hurdle after another. Yet he is far from discouraged. Because of back troubles, today is the first time he has teed it up in more than a year.
"A lot of times, when you rush the hurdle, you snap right down on top of the hurdle," said Nehemiah, 46, the first to break the 13-second barrier in the 110-meter high hurdles. "You're not totally clearing it before you try to get down off of it. So you have to be patient. And you've got to be patient with golf."
Nehemiah, a University of Maryland alum who was nicknamed "Skeets" there, took up the game in 1982, around the time he took up another challenge: pro football. He was a wide receiver with the San Francisco 49ers for three seasons. Nehemiah did not get serious about golf until 1990. A regular participant in celebrity outings, he was determined not to embarrass himself.
He usually plays every summer in Zurich, Rome, Brussels, Stockholm, Paris and London, cities that host track and field events. As director of Track & Field Worldwide for Octagon, based in McLean, he manages about a dozen clients, including sprinters Justin Gatlin and Allyson Felix.
"Events are in the evenings," Nehemiah says, "so we're on the tee at seven in the morning. We're back by noon. The athletes are just waking up, and then we take care of our business."
Nehemiah never got the chance to take care of business during the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. For many years, the boycott, initiated by President Carter in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, was not easy to absorb. "I never agreed with it," he recalls. "Just in the last, probably eight, nine years, I've come to terms with it. Single-handedly, it would have defined my career. I was extremely bitter for a long time, never would even talk about it."
He has no problem talking about his football experiences. Nehemiah was taking part in the Superstars competition when 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark asked if he would be interested in giving pro football a try.
"I went to bed, thought nothing of it," recalls Nehemiah, who played in high school, though not in college. "Lo and behold, the next morning, [Coach] Bill Walsh called me. It was amazing. He said that they were very interested in having me come out."
The call came at the perfect time.
"I was a college graduate from Maryland needing a job," says Nehemiah, who signed a four-year contract for about $1.5 million. "All I was getting was headlines in papers. Football, as I tell everybody, saved my athletic career at that point. It gave me another opportunity to get paid for my athletic prowess. Any red-blooded American kid is going to take a chance of playing pro football."
Football could have easily ended his athletic career as well. In 1983, he was knocked unconscious by Atlanta Falcons defensive back Kenny Johnson. Unfortunately, as he sees it, the hit also had an impact on Walsh, who became more cautious about how to use him. He finished his career with 43 receptions, including four touchdowns.
"He came up to me and said that he never wanted to see me hit like that again," Nehemiah says. "He protected the way he exposed me. I can appreciate it maybe now, but at the time, it was frustrating. An athlete of my caliber wants to perform."
On the golf course, once he starts to play regularly, the expectations grow. He normally shoots in the low 80s.
"I'm not keeping the right shoulder back," he says after a mediocre shot at No. 11. "I'm coming across the ball."
At No. 13, he hits it poorly again, but at No. 14, displays much better rhythm. The hurdles surely will come, hole after hole, round after round. Still, these days, they are easier to clear than the ones on the track.
"They're a little high now," he says, "very high."