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Spencer-Devlin comes from a family that anchored Piqua. There were physicians on both sides of the family, and one of her grandfathers invested wisely in the manufacturing concerns that sprang up in town. Her mother, the former Pat Harrington, was a talented amateur golfer who earned the nickname "The Consolation Kid" because it was often her misfortune to be matched against Babe Didrikson Zaharias in the first round of tournaments.
Pat Harrington drew a tough match in marriage, also. Dan Spencer was a traveling salesman. He was a cheerful alcoholic who loved to party. It was a stormy union. Eventually Dan and Pat were divorced, and he moved to Florida. An impressive inheritance allowed him to quit his job. In retirement, he would drink all night, listening to jazz, one of his passions. One early morning in 1975, he choked to death on some food. He died in his bathrobe.
"To me he always looked like Clark Gable," says Spencer-Devlin. "I remember him telling me to hit the ball as hard as I could. 'You take a big whap at it,' he'd say. There is this old guy in Piqua who knew my dad. He says that I walk like him on a golf course."
When her mother married Bill Devlin and Muffin and her brother David moved to Merrick, a Long Island suburb of New York City, Muffin acquired three step-sisters and a step-brother. She attended the Cathedral School of Saint Mary, an Episcopal prep school, and graduated in three years, winning the Mary Holbrook Russell award for integrity and honor as a senior. She was president of the athletic association, a member of the student council, the hockey, basketball and tennis teams, and won an English prize for outstanding achievement. "Before I got into drugs and freaked out, I was sort of a model citizen," says Spencer-Devlin. "I was always trying new things, but I had a great future ahead of me—one of those Most Likely to Succeed types." She also dabbled in junior golf, but never took it very seriously.
Chums from high school remember Spencer-Devlin as the quintessential smart girl bored with academics, often showing up late for class. "Soon she'd be sleeping," recalls Lynne Gull, a schoolmate. "I mean there would be only five girls in French class and there Muffin would be, snoring away. She was always being yelled at. But nothing intimidated her."
She wanted to go to Princeton, which, several years earlier, had begun accepting female students, but she was not accepted. So, hurt and rebellious, she enrolled at the American College in Leysin, Switzerland, a party school. She considered being a downhill skier. But, in fact, her training consisted of drinking and experimenting with drugs. "Drugs were part of the culture, and I got sucked in." After one night on the town, she crawled back up the mountain to her dorm, staggered into the elevator, pushed the fifth-floor button and collapsed. Other students found her there when morning came.
Golf was far from her mind. "I was a country club player," says Spencer-Devlin. Hollis Stacy remembers the first time she saw Muffin at a junior tournament. "We were about 17. I was there with my mother. Muffin arrived with a guy about 40. Needless to say, she was the talk of the tournament."
"He was 34," Spencer-Devlin says, "exactly twice my age."
In 1972, after a year in Switzerland, Spencer-Devlin and the college dissolved their relationship by mutual agreement. She enrolled at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. because she knew some people there and thought she could play on the golf team. "My first two months, I switched my major three times," she recalls. "Finally I wound up in drama. I was going to be an actress."
Her two years at Rollins were significant because she became reacquainted with her father. "I hadn't seen him since I was five or six," Spencer-Devlin says. "My mother never talked about him. My relatives always told me that he wouldn't have anything to do with me and there was no use in trying to contact him. All I knew was that he had married another woman and was living in Florida. The golf team was in Miami, so I called him. He came to pick me up. It was really weird. I hadn't seen him for about 13 years, and it was like meeting my alter ego. I talked like him, turned a phrase the same way he did. After about 10 minutes he looked at me and said, 'You know, the acorn doesn't fall very far from the tree.' Then he took me back to the house to meet his wife and he and I spent the night listening to jazz records, smoking dope and drinking."