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THE LADY IS A SCAMP
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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After all of the misery has been wrung from it, a golf course is a tranquil expanse, a park without visitors. But on this night there is one, a person who has a way of turning up in unexpected places. Muffin Spencer-Devlin, a girl who just wants to have fun, fame and fortune, is seated in her car near the 9th tee of the Jack Nicklaus Sports Center at Kings Island, Ohio, waiting for the fireworks display that goes off nightly at 10 at an adjacent amusement park. Muffin loves fireworks, the more spectacular the better. They remind her of her life, a bittersweet route of juxtapositions: glamour and sparkle intermingled with occasional desperation. Hers is a riches-to-rags-to-riches story.

"I'd like to learn about staging fireworks displays," says Spencer-Devlin. "Of course, there are about a million things I'd like to learn about. Then again, I've probably done more than the average person." To put it mildly. She has been an actress and a model, has tripped off to Africa on weekend whims to watch a friend play backgammon, has hosted her own television show in Japan and, in a more serious vein, came perilously close to self-ruination. As if this life were not enough, Spencer-Devlin believes in reincarnation. In one of her lives she thinks she was King Arthur.

Naturally, any security guard who spots an automobile parked in the middle of a golf course at night, even a courtesy car carrying medieval royalty, would be curious. "I'd recognize that muffler anywhere," says Spencer-Devlin, listening to the rumble of the security man's car. She does not even glance back. "He stopped the other night and asked: 'Can I help you?' All of my life, security guards and people like that have been asking me what I'm doing. They never can figure it out."

About 10 years ago Spencer-Devlin was waking up every day in the city that never sleeps. She was in her aspirant actress/model phase. Woody Allen once said that 80% of life was showing up, and Spencer-Devlin wasn't very punctual. There were so many distractions. She would go into a nightclub, a Cole Porter kind of place where the men were all handsome, with slicked-back hair and dark suits and precisely the proper show of starched cuffs. Soon she would be at the piano, a microphone in her hand, singing Night and Day. People were transfixed. Even now her New York friends tell Muffin stories, among them the one about the night she had no place to sleep and a buddy who worked at the Carlyle Hotel opened the cafe and let her curl up under entertainer Bobby Short's piano.

Her life in those days was right out of the lyrics to The Lady Is a Tramp: "I like the free, fresh wind in my hair. Life without care...." Says Spencer-Devlin, "That character in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Holly Golightly, that was me to a T. Adventure, that was what I was after. If I had been born a man, I would have been a pirate or something, but being a girl, all I could aspire to be was Holly. I'd go out to dinner and come back three days later. There were always interesting people around. I don't know where they came from, or why. They liked me. I liked them. They'd be around for as long as the evening went on—sometimes a night, sometimes a week. Occasionally, I wonder what happened to them. We never exchanged phone numbers."

Spencer-Devlin was 21, pretty and living in the big city. The world was her oyster, but after a while there wasn't enough cocktail sauce to keep even that from being bland. She was drifting and in danger of going under when a life preserver floated by. She grabbed it. It was golf. Although she had competed as an amateur when she was a teenager, she really wasn't very good when she decided to turn pro. She failed three times to get her player's card. On the minitours she is remembered for playing in a fishing vest, lying flat on her stomach to read putts and, after making a bogey or worse, storming off into the woods to thrash about. But she stuck with it. Now 31 and one of the leading players on the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, Spencer-Devlin has what she always wanted, from the time she was a poor little rich girl in Piqua, Ohio, looking at pictures in magazines and playing dress-up. She is a star. Her act is free, fun and, best of all, never dull. She walks up hills backward, has been known to hang upside down in motel rooms and is a friend of the whales. The lady is a scamp.

Dee Darden, the retired Air Force pilot who now caddies for Nancy Lopez, says of Spencer-Devlin, "She is the sanest visitor from another planet we have." Burch Riber, who runs the LPGA Championship, observes, "Everybody thinks she's a flake. I think she's crazy like a fox." Lori Garbacz, another pro with a tendency toward the bizarre—Garbacz has been known to drive her car in a rainstorm holding an umbrella out the window—claims that she and Spencer-Devlin were neighbors in another life. "We probably exchanged recipes," says Garbacz.

If so, they contained a lot of spice. Recently, someone asked Spencer-Devlin about her reported love of scuba diving. "Oh, I learned that when I was in Africa," she said blithely. Then she went into a lengthy story about being flown to Kenya by a friend who was playing a high stakes backgammon match against an English casino owner. While there, she met two young men who shared her love of adventure. One night they tried to break into a museum—it seemed the thing to do. As they neared it, they wondered why the streets were deserted. Walking around in the dark, they heard rustling sounds. Later, they found out that the area was rife with poisonous snakes that came out in the evenings to seek relief from the heat. "I think I was a lot of fun in those days," Spencer-Devlin says. "People liked to have me around."

Spencer-Devlin is one of the more attractive players on the circuit, even without makeup, which is the way she usually appears. She is tall, about 5'11", and willowy, with legs to match, two reasons why the LPGA had her pose as Betty Grable when the organization put together a pinup calendar in 1982.

Her nickname is Dash, partly because of her peripatetic nature, partly because of her hyphenated name. Many people think she is married to professional golfer Bruce Devlin. "They're always approaching me and saying they saw my husband on television," she says. Her name is actually Hellene Harrington Spencer. Fellow golfer Hollis Stacy says, "We used to have the same initials until she went to the hyphen." Spencer-Devlin combines the names of her late father, Dan Spencer, a suave fellow given to wine, women and song, and her stepfather, Bill Devlin, a former Wall Street executive. Her grandmother, Helene Harrington, nicknamed her Muffin at birth because of forceps marks on her forehead. "She looks just like a little muffin," her grandmother said.

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