Few college players have the type of résumé that Dylan Menante has put together over the course of three years at Pepperdine.
Menante (pronounced muh-NET-ee) has earned All-America honors twice, was part of a team national title a year ago and has the second-lowest stroke average in school history. He was the West Coast Conference player of the year in back-to-back seasons, won a major amateur event last summer in the Northeast Amateur and has ascended to No. 13 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
If you are sketching out a U.S. Walker Cup team for September 2023 at St. Andrews, Menante is close to a must-include player at the moment, especially with his ample match-play experience at the NCAA Championship. He expanded it this season when the Waves nearly repeated as national champions.
So it stunned many followers of college and amateur golf when Menante decided to leave Pepperdine 10 days after his junior year ended. Menante, a native of Reno, Nevada, moved to San Diego as a teenager – a West Coast kid through and through – is packing up to head more than 2,200 miles east, where a new squad awaits him at North Carolina. The Tar Heels reached match play this past season (coincidentally, they lost to Pepperdine in the quarterfinals) and have a terrific squad returning for next season. But still, seeing a rising star transfer from an incredibly successful program doesn’t happen very often.
Speaking with Global Golf Post while playing at last week’s Sunnehanna Amateur where he went on to tie for 13th, Menante broke down a few reasons for his sudden departure.
“I didn't really get along with my coach,” Menante said. “We're like the same person. So it was just hard to initiate conversation. I just think that they're much different than I am, much more extroverted.
“And then this year, I just didn't feel as good living off-campus. It was probably the worst thing I could have done. I lived 15 minutes off-campus, but a lot of the people (living on campus) don't have cars or those who do, it's like a Lamborghini, so it's just such a big disparity in terms of wealth. The social life is definitely a lot different. It’s a lot nicer going to the library and seeing your friends and doing some stuff. But when you're off-campus, kind of grinding with everything, it’s a lot harder. I didn't really manage my social life too well.”
Menante also mentioned that he wanted to enjoy a more traditional college experience, going from a small, secluded, private Christian school to a brand-name public institution with more than 30,000 students.
“I was telling my mom and dad that I have really never been to a football game,” Menante said. “Pepperdine doesn’t have a football team. I never really did those things. Which at UNC, I'll definitely be doing.”
Transfers like this one admittedly don’t happen very often, but Menante brings up some intriguing points that relate to Generation Z college golfers living in an era where the transfer portal is so ubiquitous across all NCAA Division I athletics.
It was once assumed that successful college athletes – especially in non-revenue sports such as golf – would “honor their commitment” to an institution. If they improved in their chosen athletic field, it was even more guaranteed that the young man or woman would stay in one spot. In this age of student-athlete empowerment, however, the culture around that assumption has shifted.
Just this past March, we saw the Oklahoma State women’s golf team lose their two best players, Mexico’s Isabella Fierro and England’s Caley McGinty, to the transfer portal. The Cowgirls were the NCAA runner-up in 2021 and were regarded as favorites this season. Fierro (No. 31 in the WAGR) fled to Ole Miss, and McGinty (No. 9 in the WAGR), who had transferred from Kent State to Oklahoma State, returned to the Midwest to play at Ohio State.
These are good players jumping ship from a very solid program. It’s been reported by Golfweek’s Julie Williams that both players cited unhappiness in their social life as the primary reason for their transfers. Both were taking online classes exclusively, a situation that arose in part because of the pandemic. Oklahoma State is now hoping to have its golfers take at least two on-campus classes so they can feel a part of the college environment on a deeper level.
These types of decisions are coming at a time when the transfer portal has made a significant impact on the college game.
According to transfer portal data recently released by the NCAA, 242 Division I golfers transferred during the 2020-21 school year, a roughly 25 percent increase from 2019-20. While a part of that is due to more graduate students taking advantage of an extra year of eligibility received by the NCAA during the pandemic, the sentiment is that transfer numbers will continue to rise and the culture around college golf transfers will change with it.
“I think you will continue to see more transfers in college golf. Especially as you look at other sports. I mean, it's not been a very good thing for other sports, when you see the sheer number of transfers. It's just a part of our world now. Coaches have to adapt.”
One close follower of college golf told me the transfer portal is the biggest story to watch in college golf.
“I think you will continue to see more transfers in college golf,” said Alan Bratton, Oklahoma State men’s coach. “Especially as you look at other sports. I mean, it's not been a very good thing for other sports, when you see the sheer number of transfers. It's just a part of our world now. Coaches have to adapt.”
Since its advent in October 2018, the transfer portal has been a digital compliance tool that simplifies a once-chaotic process, allowing athletes and programs to connect more efficiently.
In revenue sports such as football and basketball, the transfer portal has become a high-speed free-agency highway, with nearly 4,000 Division I athletes in those sports transferring to a different school during the 2020-21 school year (official data for the 2021-2022 year won’t be available until January 2023, but figures are expected to rise). Baseball has run rampant with transfers, as well, with more than 3,500 in the portal looking for new schools, and that’s not counting NAIA or junior-college players.
Some have called it madness, while others have lauded the freedom for athletes. Either way, it’s a jarring transition for college athletics. Earlier this week, the University of Miami’s men’s basketball team had a seemingly simple tweet that was stunning upon further inspection: the Hurricanes praised their team’s loyalty, stating that they were one of just nine programs who did not have a scholarship player enter the transfer portal. There are 358 Division I men’s basketball teams.
The portal immediately changed those sports, allowing coaches a quick route to overhaul rosters with experienced players. If you add in the NCAA giving an extra year of eligibility to athletes because of COVID-19, recruiting for high school athletes naturally has been more limited. The culture around transfers has evolved, too – some have an undying allegiance to their institution, but that commitment is far less sacred than it once was.
College golf won’t be confused with those sports, but it’s still very much affected.
Oklahoma men’s coach Ryan Hybl stated that many of his colleagues will look at the transfer portal several times per week, perhaps daily, for potential players. For many coaches, it’s like scrolling through eBay or Facebook Marketplace.
The Sooners have been beneficiaries from the portal as Haskins Award winner Chris Gotterup (Rutgers) and Jonathan Brightwell (UNC-Greensboro) were graduate transfers who used their extra eligibility from COVID-19 to hone their skills at a blueblood program. That decision has become more common in the portal era as the best players at smaller programs often leave for greener pastures.
Hybl believes there should be a clear delineation between graduate transfers who have honored their commitment to a school and undergraduates seeking a new home. He also goes as far as to say that situations similar to those with undergraduates like Menante, Fierro and McGinty would potentially set off red flags for him as a coach, but concedes that we inevitably will see more of them as college golfers search for a home that matches their athletic, academic and personal interests.
“As the trend is going, I think it is a little bit more of a dangerous world that we're living in, because it becomes very easily transferable,” Hybl said. “Is it necessarily a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know yet… I don't think about Chris (Gotterup) and Brightwell as normal transfers because they graduated from their school, they did their job, and then they're looking to move on to a high-level schedule.”
For others, the ecosystem of smaller programs feeding bluebloods could come with peril.
“You have a program that maybe is not a traditional power that develops a player and does right by their players,” Bratton said. “And then a kid decides to leave. It’s up to each individual situation, but that's probably not ideal.”
“There's no way it doesn't affect high school recruiting. The high school recruits are going to get squeezed, and it’s going to be the mid-level player that is affected the most. It could trickle down to where better players aren’t going to schools that are considered big brands.”
If there is one thing most coaches are confident about, it’s that the transfer portal is going to limit recruiting for junior golfers. There just aren’t enough spots and scholarships to go around.
“There's no way it doesn't affect high school recruiting,” Hybl said. “The high school recruits are going to get squeezed, and it’s going to be the mid-level player that is affected the most. It could trickle down to where better players aren’t going to schools that are considered big brands.”
North Carolina head coach Andrew DiBitetto said it came as a shock that Menante was interested in his program, and that the Tar Heels coaching staff had to quickly learn the ropes of the portal given that this is their first transfer since DiBetetto took over. Poetically, at the same time Menante is coming in, a North Carolina player just entered his name into the portal after it became apparent that his playing time wouldn’t be increased.
“He wants to be at UNC,” DiBitetto said of the player. “We want him to finish out with us. But he also wants to play, and we support him in that. So I feel like it's hard to throw a blanket over everything when it comes to transfers. Every situation is unique.”
Menante doesn’t call his own route ideal, but he speaks with passion and confidence that this next step is what is best for him. And though he doesn’t believe transfers will be the same in college golf as they are in revenue sports, he expects more of his peers will move in hopes of finding a balanced situation that works best for them.
“I think you'll definitely see more just because it's so easy to get into the portal,” Menante said. “I don't think there'll be a lot more, but I think it would probably be 10 to 20 percent more. Maybe the school doesn’t fit or they were promised something that wasn’t there. It’s enough for it to be slightly more but not a crazy amount.”
And that is enough to keep everyone’s head on a swivel in the college golf world.
Top: Dylan Menante will take his game eastward to North Carolina.