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Barry McDermott
August 19, 1985
Muffin Spencer-Devlin believes she was King Arthur in another life, but nothing can match her current incarnation as a skyrocketing professional golfer
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August 19, 1985

The Lady Is A Scamp

Muffin Spencer-Devlin believes she was King Arthur in another life, but nothing can match her current incarnation as a skyrocketing professional golfer

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If ever there was a dire side to Spencer-Devlin's life, it was when she left Rollins and went to New York City to become a star. "The farthest south I lived was in a loft at Broadway and Canal above Dave's diner, a truck stop," she says. "And the farthest north was at 89th and Madison Avenue in a penthouse." The idea was to try everything. She says Jackie Onassis once gave her a ride in her limousine. They had met in a ski shop where Spencer-Devlin worked briefly as a salesclerk.

One evening Spencer-Devlin went to see singer Mabel Mercer at the St. Regis Hotel. That night a city official presented Mercer with a key to New York City. In the foyer between shows, Spencer-Devlin encountered the entertainer and, impulsively, took off a huge gold chain she was wearing. "Here, Miss Mercer," she said. "You've got the key, you need a chain to hang it on." At the next show, Mercer performed with the chain around her neck and the key dangling from it.

Spencer-Devlin was irresponsible, prone to emotional extravagance, theatrical, easily bored. Nothing seemed to faze her. She mystified her family. There were too many late-night calls, too many problems. She was diagnosed—mistakenly, she insists—as a manic-depressive and for brief periods was a patient in two mental wards and a sanitorium. It was the lowest time of her life. She was eccentric, certainly, liked to have a good time, sure, but she knew she wasn't crazy. She left the sanitorium and spent the next six months searching for a goal, some purpose.

"I once lived on Irish coffee for about two weeks," says Spencer-Devlin. "Maybe one week. Time gets stretched out when you're like that. It's like you're taking uppers and downers at the same time. No wonder I was in the ozone. All the drugs, legal and illegal. I remember in the hospital I managed to get peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at lunch. The rest of the place went into an uproar. I loved it. All I ever wanted to do was what I wasn't supposed to do."

In May 1976, she found herself at the Women's International, a pro tournament on Hilton Head Island, S.C. There she saw her old junior golf buddies, Laura Baugh and Stacy. She had come from Pinehurst, N.C., where she had devastated a field of 45-year-old women in the fifth flight of the North and South Women's Amateur. Don't laugh. It was the only tournament she had ever won. Flush with success, she decided to join the pro circuit. This was serious. She moved to Hilton Head, took a job as a waitress in a restaurant and hit golf balls all day on the driving range at the Palmetto Dunes Resort. "I thought she was hopeless," says a fellow who knew her then. "I was watching her from a distance one day, and it was pathetic. She kept hitting ground balls. Then she would beat her clubs on the ground out of frustration. It was laughable that she thought she could play the pro tour."

Her roommate from those days, Karen Shapiro, now the professional at the Long Cove Club at Hilton Head, remembers, "When Muffin was around, something was always happening. Once she came sliding down this banister, hit the floor and her knee went right through the wall."

Spencer-Devlin went off to try the minitours. In California she met a doctor, Arthur Kaslow, who told her he believed that her gypsy life-style, junk-food diet and low blood sugar had been responsible for her erratic behavior. She became the Gary Player of women's golf, carrying around exotic natural foods. She ate in health food restaurants where the water was certified pure by scientific test, gave up smoking, all but eliminated her drinking and became a physical-fitness buff. She bought Gravity Boots and hung from door frames because of a sore back, became a devotee of chiropractics and got involved in the Church of Scientology. She was into everything, including being named to the advisory board of the Pacific Whale Foundation.

She also became a better golfer. Twice she attended the players' school, aiming for her LPGA tournament card, and both times she bombed out. The third time she missed by only six shots. The next year, pumped up from reading about psycho-cybernetics—she listened to a p-c tape in her car on the four-hour drive to the tournament—playing the theme from Superman every morning in her room, and with inspirational messages taped everywhere, she qualified.

Spencer-Devlin was always open to suggestions. In 1980 she met a teaching pro, John Redman, who suggested she hit some shots. The wind was blowing straight into her face. "She hit a couple of wedge shots that went straight up and almost came back and hit her," recalls Redman. "I couldn't believe it. I told her, 'You must be the world's best putter, because you can't hit the ball at all.' I thought she was going to quit right there. Instead she said, 'Teach me.' "

Since then, with the help of Redman, the counsel of sports psychologist Bob Rotella, endless hours with a machine that refined her putting stroke and made her one of the best putters in the game, a remarkable capacity for practice and a similar drive for excellence, Spencer-Devlin's progress has been steady. In her first year, 1979, she won $2,527 and was 112th on the money list. Then: 1980-$7,904 (92nd); '81-$13,501 (79th); '82-$26,066 (59th); '83-$27,686 (63rd); '84-$73,324 (23rd). This year, which has been her best, she has won $85,593 and is 19th on the money list, 11th in scoring (72.56) and fourth in putting (29.52).

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