Muffin Spencer-Devlin Is the Best Lesbian, Manic-Depressive, Glass-Blowing Golfer of Them All

The Laguna Beach resident made history when she came out while on the LPGA Tour. That was the easy part

"The diet-and-vitamin thing was amazing as long as I kept my end of the deal," she says. "No white bread, no chemical preservatives, no recreational drugs, organic produce as often as possible. It took a lot of mental discipline, but as long as I stuck to it, it was manageable."

But any time she slipped, the potential for another episode was there. And when she slipped, she slipped hard.

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Muffin Spencer-Devlin
Muffin Spencer-Devlin
Muffin, reading the rough, at Aliso Creek Golf Course
Muffin, reading the rough, at Aliso Creek Golf Course

"The England one is one of the best," Spencer-Devlin recalls. In early 1990, she thought she'd give the Women's European Tour a go. But dealing with the recent death of her stepfather was playing havoc with her emotions.

"I was invited to play in the Ford Classic in Woburn, England," she recalls. "The mania was coming, although I don't know if I was aware of that. The pro-am dinner the night before the tournament was in this fancy-shmancy, stately place. You were given a place to sit, but I was table-hopping and talking to someone at the head table, and they asked me to sit there. So I did. Then, one of the officials came up to me and said I couldn't sit there. That precipitated some screaming and yelling on my part."

Reports from English newspapers at the time said Spencer-Devlin "made an entrance . . . in the grand manner, dressed like a '20s cabaret star." When she was told to sit at a predesignated table, she reportedly slammed her fist on the table and said, "I am an American, and I am not to be treated this way. . . . Nobody tells me what to do. I am not going to keep quiet. I am an American and know how to behave."

"The next day, I was at the range getting ready to play, and an official brought a letter disqualifying me," she says. "I remember hanging around most of the day, giving some press interviews, with some pretty inflammatory quotes. I wound up in a hospital for a while and had an affair with the head nurse. . . . That was a good one."

In her time as a touring professional, Spencer-Devlin participated in tournaments in both manic and depressed phases. "The manic one I remember was in Italy. I was wearing knickers and a tie and playing while listening to headphones and singing songs. A depressive one came in Jamaica, not long after my stepfather died. I had a great caddy, and I remember telling him, 'You got to lead me around; I'm in really bad shape.' He led me to a sixth-place finish, but all I could think of was getting on one of those glass-bottom boats and slipping off the end without anyone noticing. Sometimes, it seemed that suicide was the only thing possible that could end the pain."

Instead, Spencer-Devlin jumped into the nation's 1990s culture wars when she decided to come out publicly in the pages of Sports Illustrated. She recalls the idea stemming from a reporter-player relationship cultivated with SI reporter Amy Nutt. "We had the disease in common," Spencer-Devlin says. Nutt was a bipolar fast cycler, someone who could experience three manic episodes in a day; Spencer-Devlin was a slow cycler, whose manic and depressive mood swings could last weeks, if not months.

"That was our common thing. And Amy was one of the few people [with bipolar disorder] who I would talk to about it whose eyes didn't glaze over when I brought up how I dealt with it. She came up with the idea [to come out in the magazine]. My first reaction was 'You're fucking crazy.' I didn't want that notoriety, but then I thought about it for three, four, five months and decided to do it."

The decision was sealed, in large part, by the fact she'd been so open about her manic-depression, Spencer-Devlin says. Since arriving on the tour, she'd not only talked openly about the disorder with the media, but she had also adopted raising awareness of it as a crusade.

"That definitely was a thought I had," she says. "There's a place when you want to be honest about everything. There weren't a lot of people in the press or among my friends who didn't know, but the stand-up-and-be-counted part became very important to me."

"It was definitely a big story," recalls John Garrity, the reporter who wrote the story, along with Nutt. He flew to Laguna Beach in early 1996 and met with Spencer-Devlin and her then-partner, a music composer. "She'd be the first LPGA golfer to step forward. It was an extremely sensitive topic at the time and, honestly, a subject that was hurting the LPGA in a lot of ways. There were rumors that suggested the sexual orientation of LPGA players was entirely off the spectrum, and even though Muffin said the number of actual lesbians on tour was significantly less, the perception at the time was that a lot of sponsors weren't backing events because they didn't feel it was promoting the so-called 'wholesome family image' and they didn't want their brand names associated with that."

It wasn't an easy decision. Spencer-Devlin had to deal with how her sponsors, such as Callaway Golf, would react, not to mention her fellow players, LPGA fans and the general public. And, of course, there was the LPGA Tour.

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