You can sometimes make out Catalina Island from the balcony of
Muffin Spencer-Devlin's hilltop house in Laguna Beach, Calif.
Boats dot the horizon. When it rains, the red tile roofs of
neighboring houses shine like wet clay. On one recent morning
the 42-year-old professional golfer spied a rainbow--a bold band
of color springing from the clouds near Catalina and arching to
"The rainbow is a symbol for gays and lesbians," Spencer-Devlin
said last week, standing on the brink of a life change as
daunting as the Pacific. "All over the country, people put
rainbow signs in store windows and hang rainbow flags on their
houses. But you know, I'd never thought about why we claim
rainbows for a totem." Turning away, she said, "To create a
rainbow, first you have to have rain. Then you need light."
At peace with the most momentous decision of her rain-filled
life, Spencer-Devlin plopped down on her brown leather sofa,
rubbed her hands on her jeans and indicated she was prepared for
the questions. "When you're out and ready to fly the rainbow
flag," she said, "you're ready to shine a bright light on
By last weekend word had spread among players and staff of the
Ladies Professional Golf Association that what had been rumored
for weeks--the first "coming out" by a lesbian player in the
organization's 46-year history--had actually occurred. In a
series of interviews with SI, Spencer-Devlin had spoken openly
of her lifestyle.
March 18, 1996
"I applaud Muffin," said LPGA president and 19-year tour veteran
Vicki Fergon. "I'm not saying every player will be thrilled
about it, but we're a family and we respect each other."
"I don't think I'm naive, but I don't have any concerns about
this," echoed LPGA commissioner Jim Ritts. "I know there are
still individuals who have problems with diversity, but we've
come so far as a society that I don't see this as a topic that
really moves people."
If the official responses sounded like spin, that's because the
issue of lesbians in golf has usually been framed in terms of
their perceived impact on the LPGA. When network TV audiences
are smaller than desired, critics claim it's because the players
are "too butch." When the commissioner can't fill open dates in
the tournament schedule, outsiders whisper that sponsors don't
want their products associated with "deviant" behavior.
None of which, Spencer-Devlin insists, has a jot to do with her
decision to address the subject. She says, "When the president
of our association speaks for us, it's O.K., because we elected
her. But in no way has anybody elected me head lesbian of the
LPGA. I'm not anybody's mouthpiece, and I don't want to be
perceived as such." Her coming out is a "personal catharsis," a
celebration; it has little to do with tour politics and
everything to do with musician/composer Lynda Roth, the woman
with whom she plans to exchange vows in May. "Coming out is like
an incredibly huge weight being lifted from my shoulders," says
Spencer-Devlin. "No more living in the shadows. No more lies."
If the action is personal, the actor has long been considered a
personality. Spencer-Devlin is a tall, blue-eyed reed of a
woman, 5'11" and 145 pounds, with three LPGA wins in her 18
years on the tour, a penchant for skydiving and bungee jumping
and a personal history dotted with short stays in psychiatric
hospitals. Manic depression has disrupted her otherwise
promising career: On one European shopping spree in 1990, she
spent $30,000 in a fortnight; another time, after creating a
ruckus in the lobby of New York's Waldorf-Astoria hotel in the
early '70s, she was taken to Bellevue hospital in a
straitjacket. "She hasn't had a career," columnist Jim Murray
once wrote, "she's had an Italian opera."
Thanks to her resiliency and modern pharmacology, Spencer-Devlin
has had both. Last year she resuscitated her LPGA reputation
with three top-10 finishes and earnings of $100,449, her first
six-figure income in nine years, although this season she has
yet to make the cut in two events. Regular visits to a
chiropractor keep her often troublesome back strong enough for
practice and play, while 70 pills a day help to control her mood
swings. "I am still a golfer," she says. "I haven't lost my
talent, and I certainly haven't lost my desire to play."
What she has lost, instead--sacrificed, actually--is that membrane
of politeness that keeps journalists and fans from asking
questions that are too personal. Spencer-Devlin's sexual history
is now pretty much an open book, from her teenage gropings with
a man twice her age to her first intimate encounter, in her
early 20's, with a woman. ("My mother asked me in 1975 whether I
didn't like men. I told her I love men, and I think the earth
would be a sad place without them. I just didn't want to sleep
with them.") Was it true that Spencer-Devlin had dated numerous
women while playing golf around the world? Absolutely. In the
'80s, did Spencer-Devlin and a woman exchange vows and later
separate? Yes again.
The details, she hastens to add, are not pertinent; what matters
is the honesty attached to coming out.
"I truly believe that keeping a secret is an energy-consuming
act. If every day when you wake up you have 100 units of energy
for the day, and you have secrets, they might take up 10 units
of that energy. After a time you might not even be aware of it
anymore, but you have that much less energy to apply in your
life. And that's unhealthy."
But Spencer-Devlin is too candid to offer honesty as her only
motivation for coming out. A month or so ago, she showed a
friend an old photo of herself at age five wearing her favorite
play outfit, a suit of armor. "We all live with a myth," she
said, explaining her lifelong fascination with King Arthur and
the knights of the Round Table. "Mine is the hero myth."
The question Spencer-Devlin can't answer, curiously enough, is,
"What's it like being a lesbian on the LPGA tour?'' She chooses
not to generalize and can quote only from her own
experience--"Everyone responds differently to stimuli"--and she
has no more interest in presenting a false picture than she does
in outing a friend. "I'm no Margaret Mead," she says. "I haven't
studied lesbians in sport or even women in sport." The
observations she does make are commonsensical, such as, "On the
tour, lesbians do present a picture to the world of living a
Some myths she is happy to dispel. Lesbians are a minority on
the LPGA tour, she says, despite the public perception that it's
filled with gays. (She readily concedes that she is not the only
golfing lesbian who wondered last year why it took so long for
CBS television to hold announcer Ben Wright accountable for his
published remarks about lesbians and women in golf. "It's not so
much what he said as the fact that he later lied about saying
it. He made an honest reporter out to be a liar.")
Spencer-Devlin also gives thumbs-down to the idea that a woman's
appearance is a giveaway; the tour is composed not just of gay
women and straight women, but of feminine-looking gay
women--"lipstick lesbians"--and masculine-looking heterosexual
women. She recalls a tournament round in 1979, her rookie
season, during which she spoke freely about her girlfriend to a
player she assumed was gay--only to have that player respond by
talking about her boyfriend. "I was embarrassed," Spencer-Devlin
admits. "But it was a defining moment for me, because I quickly
realized that she really didn't care. After that I never felt
the need to hide my sexuality from my peers."
But to the rest of the world she remained closeted. Within
earshot of journalists, sponsors and fans, she referred to her
"significant other" without using gender pronouns. Sometimes she
compounded the deception by turning the absent lover into a man.
It bothered her to lie, and sometimes she would reveal her
secret, off the record, to a trusted journalist. But her overall
strategy was one of deceit by omission. "I don't think anybody
in a healthy relationship wants to hide the fact that they're in
love," she says. "And no one wants to disguise the person with
whom they're in love."
For Spencer-Devlin the beginning of the end came in 1992 when a
three-year casual friendship with Roth turned into something
deeper during the week of the Nabisco Dinah Shore in Rancho
Mirage, Calif. Several months later they began living together,
and in 1994 they bought their shoebox-shaped house above Laguna
Beach. On a typical day at home Spencer-Devlin sings the
libretto of Camelot while working out on the step machine in the
living room; Roth, in another room, composes scores for films
and commercials. "What attracted me to Muffin was her generosity
of spirit," says Roth. "Muffin has this side of her where if I
said, 'Do you think we could go to the moon?' she'd say, 'Sure,
when do you want to go?'"
It is a relationship that seems, on the one hand, to be
intellectual: the coffee table offers neatly aligned copies of
The New Yorker and Esquire, and either woman can, with ease,
drop the name of theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin or
psychotherapist J. Konrad Stettbacher. The romantic side of the
attachment is revealed in a passage from notes Spencer-Devlin
has been keeping for a planned autobiography. In her writings
she describes a sojourn with Roth in Paris: "Dinner at the Cafe
de Marly.... Its walls are deep, Richelieu red.... We shared a
small bottle of Burgundy, a plate of fresh asparagus....
After--we drank cafe creme and smoked small cigars."
Clearly, that lack of self-consciousness is something she would
like to experience on the tour. "Paul Azinger wins a
tournament," Spencer-Devlin wrote in her notes, "and his wife is
there on the 18th green with hugs and kisses. Could you imagine
me hugging and kissing my woman lover at the conclusion of my
last tournament win? Well, [that's what you'll see] at my next
In the meantime the displays of affection are not for the TV
cameras. It's just Spencer-Devlin and Roth sitting on their
couch, thumbing through a photo album: pictures of them in
Greece, at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, with Spencer-Devlin's
mother in nearby Carlsbad, with Roth's parents in Florida. They
lean into each other, touching hands. They laugh over a funny
story, absorbed in their life together.
Why now? Why not four years ago, when Spencer-Devlin vowed she
would not consign Roth to the shadows?
Spencer-Devlin is quick to answer. "The two areas that keep gay
people in the closet," she says, "are family and jobs."
Family was not a problem for Spencer-Devlin. Her mother, Pat
Harrington Devlin--a very good amateur golfer who competed a
number of times against Babe Didrikson Zaharias in the '40s?has
long accepted her daughter's sexual orientation. "What more
could a parent ask for than for her child to be happy and
loved?" she says. Her father, Dan Spencer, and stepfather, Bill
Devlin, are dead.
The problem was her fear of losing the only endorsement contract
she had at the time, with Izzo, manufacturer of dual shoulder
strap golf bags. "In 1992, when I first wanted to come out, I
was basically broke," she says. "I had blown my savings during a
manic episode in '90. So I decided not to rock the boat."
With her improved play in 1995, the waters seemed calmer. By
then she had two new endorsement deals, with MET-Rx, USA Inc. (a
company that manufactures food supplements) and Callaway Golf.
As Spencer-Devlin tells it, she woke up one morning and said,
"It's time." If she feared the reaction of tour officials and
sponsors, they quickly put those fears to rest. The division
head at MET-Rx simply shrugged. Callaway's president, Don Dye,
is more voluble. "As far as we're concerned," he says, "if it
doesn't interfere with her ability to hit a golf ball and she
continues to show the kind of integrity that she clearly does,
she's our kind of spokesperson."
The response of colleagues to her plan to come out was more
predictable. At the HealthSouth Inaugural in January, one player
told her, "This isn't going to help the LPGA." But others
pledged support. "If you dare to be happy, people should accept
that," said Swedish star Helen Alfredsson.
To the LPGA any unpleasantness surrounding the coming out is
outweighed by the benefits of having a face to put on its
lesbian minority. "When you label someone with a single word, a
stereotype gets attached, and the individual's real qualities
get clouded," said commissioner Ritts. "Muffin is dramatic,
she's warm, she's funny, and she's a truly gifted athlete who
has had to contend with great travails in life. If someone tags
her as gay and never experiences the rich colors of her
life--well, it's a lost opportunity for them."
With the story about to break, Spencer-Devlin showed no signs of
nervousness last week. Asked if she feared the reaction of
religious conservatives and talk show hosts, she shook her head.
Asked if she worried that the added notoriety might exacerbate
her mood swings, she hesitated. "I think that keeping the secret
may have contributed to my illness. Whatever the consequences,
being honest should be less stressful, not more."
Of one thing she was certain: Her coming out was not an event
confined to a single week in 1996. "You don't just do it once,"
she said, staring at the sun-dappled sea and at Catalina Island
hugging the horizon like a sleeping cat. "It's a constant thing.
You are on the line with it for the rest of your life." And for
a moment she just fixed on the sky, saying nothing--hoping,
maybe, for a rainbow.