BY RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It wasn’t a normal road trip.
In 2017 and 2018, Manuela Lizarazu and her father, Jorge, left their home in Bogota, Colombia, and spent a good share of the summer in the United States.
“Just going to different states, and playing (tournament) golf all summer,” Manuela said. “It was like paradise.”
One of their stops was the Midwest Junior Championships at Finkbine Golf Course in Iowa City, Iowa. For Lizarazu, it was love at first sight.
“I remember the first day I played there I thought, ‘Wow, this course is great,'” Manuela said. “It has everything you need. Long shots, short shots, bunker shots, rough, nice fairways, the greens were perfect. I loved the course.”
She placed third in the tournament in 2017, and fourth in 2018. Now Finkbine is her home course. She signed with the Iowa women’s golf program and she is a freshman on head coach Megan Menzel’s team.
“I remember when I came here I thought, ‘This place is amazing,’ Manuela said. “The people were so warm. I felt at home, even though I was from far away. It felt peaceful, with a lot of good energy and positivity. With that course, what more can you ask for?”
Manuela is majoring in biomedical engineering at Iowa. She loves math and she is in a sport where low numbers are preferred.
“Low numbers are never bad,” she said. “You’re always pushing to shoot under par, or even par, but I think the most important thing is going shot-by-shot and hole-by-hole. If you focus on the present, and leave the past aside and the future aside, I’m pretty sure you’re going to shoot low numbers. Then the math is going to be pretty easy.”
Lizarazu has made an immediate impact on the Hawkeye program as a freshman.
She shot 70-74-75 to tie for 19th at the Battle of the Beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to close the fall season. Then she opened the spring season by shooting 73-74-71 to tie for 35th at the Westbrook Spring Invitational in Peoria, Arizona.
“She’s not very tall, but she’s strong, and is a good athlete,” Menzel said. “Her length is sneaky long and she’s a good iron player. When she gets hot, she can hit a lot of greens and hit it close. I think her biggest attribute is just her fire and her spunk.”
Lizarazu grew up competing in tennis and gymnastics. She took up golf at 8 years of age, and there was something about the solitude of the sport that hooked her.
“You don’t play against anyone, you play against yourself,” she said. “You have to challenge yourself. You are playing against the course, so you have control of it.”
After she won her first tournament, as a 10-year-old, the game became more than a hobby.
“I started to look at it as something I could be good at,” Lizarazu said. “I always wanted to go practice. That was my happy moment of the day.”
Manuela considers iron play to be the strength of her game.
“From my 8-iron to my 5-iron, I’m pretty accurate with them,” she said. “So normally my par-3s are pretty good. I struggle a little bit with my putting, but it’s getting better. My short putts are pretty accurate now.”
Adjusting to the American college life has taken some time.
“It has been pretty rough,” Lizarazu said. “Coming from a foreign country, the way they teach here is pretty different.”
Tutors, and friends, have helped her settle in.
On the golf course, Menzel thinks her freshman is better when she plays with fire.
“She’s playing her best when she’s fist-pumping and fired up,” Menzel said. “Sometimes she can go in the wrong direction, and we’re working on that. When she has her head up and she’s enjoying the day and attacking the golf course, that’s when she’s at her best.”
Menzel said that Lizarazu has leadership skills rare for a first-year player.
“She encourages her teammates and challenges her teammates,” Menzel said. “She’s not afraid to speak her mind. She was raised as a pretty strong young woman She’s going to be a leader and she has a lot of respect for her teammates. She has a great attitude and has a lot of fun every day.”