Manuel Lozada (right - AmateurGolf.com photo)
second experience at the Dogwood Invitational this week is going way better than his first one two years ago.
The 19-year-old from Argentina who just completed a stellar freshman season at Arkansas is near the top of the leaderboard going into Saturday at Druid Hills Golf Club in suburban Atlanta with 29 holes still to play.
Lozada made it through seven holes of the third round in the next-to-last threesome late Friday before tournament officials blew the horn to suspend play for the day after a stoppage of play for more than four hours in the afternoon due to thunderstorms that are customary in the summer months in the Deep South.
He was even-par for the round after making a birdie and a bogey along with five pars to open his third round of the 72-hole tournament which ranks as one of the major championships in the amateur game. Lozada began the day two strokes back of halfway-leader Louis Dobbelaar who was 12-under through two rounds and was on a birdie binge early Friday with four in seven holes to reach 16-under when the horn sounded to stop play with darkness setting in.
Lozada is confident he can play catch-up especially with the chance to play the back nine twice on Saturday to close out the tournament.
“I’m going keep playing like I’ve been playing. I know I can make some birdies,” he said. “You have to be patient on this course. You never know when the birdies are going come. They can be on any hole. You have to hang in there. I really like the back nine and didn’t take advantage of it the last two days, but think I can the next two times.”
Those were the words of a confident golfer. Lozada has more confidence and know-how than he had back in 2019 when he walked the hilly terrain at Druid Hills as perhaps the least experienced player in the field when it came to playing competitive golf.
Lozada was only 17-years old then and had taken up the game only a little more than a year earlier. And on top of that, he was literally in foreign territory.
“That was my first tournament in the U.S.,” he said referring to the 2019 Dogwood. “I was really scared and played really bad.”
Lozada got off to a fairly good start in his first round, but when the day turned south, it went downhill in a hurry.
“I was 1- or 2-over until 13,” he recalled. “But on 13, I made an 11 on the hole.”
And just how did that happen? “I kept losing balls,” he said. “I kept hitting into the right trees every time.”
Of course, he couldn’t help but think about that nightmare of a hole this week when he saw it again for the first time.
This week, his results on the 187-yard par-3 have been far better. He made a par in the opening round and a birdie in Thursday’s second round.
“It was fun to take advantage of that hole,” he said with a boyish grin.
That big number on the par-3 played a big part in Lozada not making it beyond the third round two years ago when the size of the field was cut down for the final round.
He obviously will be playing the last 18 holes on Saturday barring a major collapse as he finishes up his third round in the morning. Where his 54-hole score will be in relation to the tournament lead remains to be seen.
The 5-foot-9 Cordoba native grew up playing soccer and only dabbled in golf a few times as a young kid. Through his childhood years he played on elite teams and was on track to possibly become a professional player in Argentina eventually.
Lozada, though, gave up on his pro soccer dream during high school because the training schedule didn’t fit with his school schedule.
Plus, he had just started playing golf and basically fell in love with the game from the first ball he hit off the tee on the driving range.
“I practiced a lot,” he said. “I went to the course every day and played 36 holes a lot.”
Lozada claims he wasn’t very good when he started, but that’s all a matter of perspective. “I probably shot 75 or 76,” he said, when asked what his typical score was early on. “I wasn’t good. I improved a lot.”
He did so in a short time, and Lozada is steadily improving now.
Lozada won what he calls his first “important tournament’ in Chile at age 16, about a year after taking up the game.
“It was an international tournament, a junior tournament in South America,” he noted. “I wasn’t expecting to win at all. I was impressed.”
Lozada said he began to post sub-par scores somewhat consistently about two years ago.
He said his first big amateur tournament win was back home in Cordoba. It came in an event called the El Federal.
“It had international players and all Argentina players,” Lozada explained. “I wasn’t expected to win. I just got back from vacation, hadn’t practiced in like 15 days and was just there to have fun.
“The first day was bad. I was 4-over on the front, but 6-under on the back. I was 6-under the next day and 4-under the last round. I won by three shots. It was pretty exciting.”
In addition to playing the Dogwood two summers ago, Lozada also received an invitation to the Sunnehanna Amateur in Pennsylvania where he played much better. It was there that he met Julian Perico
who was already playing at Arkansas. Perico told Razorbacks’ coach Brad McMakin about this talented Argentinian that he met at the tournament and encouraged him to give Lozada a look.
The Arkansas coach did more than look at his highlight tape. McMakin flew to Argentina to visit Lozada and watch him play in person. He was impressed enough by what he saw that he offered him a scholarship before he left to come back home.
Lozada all but accepted the offer on the spot, too. “He showed me a lot of videos of the school, the course, the facilities, and I knew we had a great team. I fell in love with it,” he said. “It was crazy. It happened pretty fast, actually.”
Lozada played a lot this past season for the Razorbacks in his first go-round with the team. He played in 11 tournaments, recording a top-10 and three top-20s. He went 2-1 in match-play at the SEC Championship while helping the team to a runner-up finish and was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team after the season.
From his first collegiate tournament through the NCAA Championship, Lozada’s World Golf Amateur Ranking went from 1,517 to 752 - a climb of 765 spots.
“I’ve learned a lot this year, he said. “I’ve learned how to play a course, how to think when you play. Every part of my game has improved.”
Lozada will once again head to the Sunnehanna tournament next week after playing at the Dogwood. And then, he will go back home to Argentina for the remainder of the summer to spend time with family and friends he hasn’t seen since going home over Christmas break.
“I’m going to rest for a couple of weeks, then practice a lot and play some tournaments,” he said. “And then, get back here for school and be ready to give it my best again.”
And while he’s back home in Cordoba, there might be some family battles on the golf course, too. He isn’t the only good golfer in his household.
His father is a scratch golfer, his two older brothers are pretty close to scratch and he has a younger brother who has just started playing and appears to be a quick learner, too.
“We make pretty good matches,” Lozada said.