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 sea.
"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 yourself."
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.
"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."