Take it from Ian Noel. Mauritius is hardly the ideal setting for an aspiring young golfer.
"My country (an island in the Indian Ocean off the Southeast coast of Africa, population $30,000) has about 100 golfers and two or three juniors. There are only five golf courses, and the same three or four people always win the tournaments.
"This makes for very little competition. After a while, I was just teeing the ball up. I didn't need any strategy to win."
Five months ago, Noel, 17, left his family and friends and came to the United States to develop his golf game. He moved in with the John Sharon family of Chevy Chase, enrolled in Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, and began to work towards what he hopes one day will lead to a spot on the PGA tour.
"I would like to become the first pro ever from Mauritius,' said Noel, a junior at B-CC. "If I wasn't serious about this, I would have stayed on the island, basking in the sun. But I wanted the opportunity to play where the golf is the best in the world."
Noel's first opportunity came soon after his arrival. On the way to Chevy Chase, in December, he stopped in Florida to play in the Orange Bowl junior tournament against the country's best junior golfers.
"I was very scared the first two days of the tournament. On Mauritius, you are led to believe that everything in the United States is better, and I had the fear that my golf game was inferior. But during the final two days, my scores were lower than all but one player. It was just a matter of settling down and realizing that I was as good as anyone else.
Noel proved that facts in the Maury Nee tournament in mid-April, his first and only area tournament to date, when he shot a 75 to tie 1976 junior golfer of the year Clay Fitzgerald for top honors. The tournament was played at Kenwood Country Club, Fitzgerald's home course.
"Although I've only played with him a few times, it seems to me that Ian is a fine all-around player," commented St. Albans' Jack Skilling, one of the area's finest junior golfers. "He'll provide the rest of us with strong competition."
Noel agrees with Skilling that his overall game is sound. Despite his size (5-foot-9, 140 pounds), he can drive the ball 260 yards off the tee and is a good putter. But Noel, who has a one handicap, believes that he needs to work on his strategy. Thus, he spends many afternoons on the driving range and course of Chevy Chase Club, receiving instruction from the club's former pro, Tim Schaff.
"As I developed my golf game," Noel said, "I was pretty much my own instructor; golf came very naturally. But now I am learning how to make the right shots. For instance, since the courses at home are much flatter than they are here, I had never used a two-iron before. These are the things I must learn to do to improve my game."
The only instructor that Noel had on Mauritius was his mother, the island's women's champion for eight straight years, who began teaching him to play when he was five. He has had professional aspirations since he was 13, and competing in several tournaments in South Africa at 14 increased this desire. But Noel's outside tournament experience is very limited.
"People have really been nice to me, but I have found that if you want to be good in something, you must specialize in it, because there are so many other people who are just as good. It takes a lot of time to do something and be good."
Noel plans to put in that time this summer, and he will compete in most of the area's junior and amateur events, including the Schoolboy and the Southern junior championship. Following his graduation from B-CC next June, he plans to go to college and then hopefully partake of the fame and fortune of the PGA tour.
"I have gotten a taste of what the United States is like," Noel said, "and I will work hard to make the best of my chance. I think it will be fun."