Madeleine Winnett on Muffin Spencer-Devlin
Ever since I started writing for LG, my interest in the Ladies’ European Tour has grown. As I have been to more live events, played in pro-ams and interviewed a number of players, I feel more of a connection with them and have developed more of an interest in following how they get on.
However, I confess that my corresponding knowledge of the LPGA Tour is somewhat lacking. That could be about to change, though, if it is anything like as colourful as what I have just been reading. I have only just finished saying, “Oh my word!” out loud for the umpteenth time, between bouts of giggling, as I keep recalling snippets of what I have perused.
All this began as I stumbled across an old article about Alison Nicholas winning the British Open in 1987. She beat the American, Muffin Spencer-Devlin by one shot, whom I am now ashamed to admit that I didn’t know anything about. When I mentioned this to Alison, she suggested I look her up on the internet – so I did. And to repeat my earlier phrase, “Oh my word!”
The very first article I came across, in ‘OC Weekly’ had the headline, “Muffin Spencer-Devlin Is the Best Lesbian, Manic-Depressive, Glass Blowing Golfer of Them All.”
That’s quite a headline, and it certainly grabbed my attention – as did the following five pages of content. I couldn’t tear myself away. This woman makes Christina Kim and John Daly look like the most shy, retiring people on the planet!
Now, the lady has had some serious medical problems, suffering from bi-polar and manic depression, and it seems that some of her most outrageous incidents have occurred whilst she wasn’t taking her medication. Even so, I want to meet this woman. I want to write her book. I want to make a film about her life. Above all, I want her to join my golf club and be present at every committee meeting, because you would never know what she was going to come out with next. But whatever it would be, it would be honest, and I love that. In all interviews I have read about her, she is refreshingly open in everything she says, and I want to embrace that and celebrate it.
Some of her antics aren’t unique. She isn’t the first player to have thrown her wedge, and she isn’t the first player to have been fined – although now that I know the full extent of the language she used in the incident at Woburn then I suppose the Tour had to be seen to act. She isn’t the first player to have turned to drink and drugs.
I am fairly confident that she is the first player to believe that she was King Arthur in a former life! She isn’t the first gay golfer, but she is the first person on the LPGA to have ‘outed herself’ publicly in the 1990s (not to mention the first female American athlete), which was certainly sensationalist at the time. I don’t think she is the first player to have won $1 million and then blown every cent of it, and she’s probably not the first player to have been arrested – although I can’t recall hearing about anyone else trying to kick the back window out of a police car as she was being driven away.
However, I am fairly confident that she is the first player to believe that she was King Arthur in a former life! As I spent so many years of my life at Millfield school both as a pupil and a teacher, the Arthurian legends are very dear to me. I am more than happy to believe that King Arthur is buried in the Church Yard at Glastonbury Abbey (irrespective of what people in Cornwall might maintain) but despite Glastonbury being steeped in myths and legends, I can’t ever recall a mention of him coming back as a woman on the LPGA Tour!
Obviously, there is a serious mental condition here that I am not trying to belittle, because I see her as a breath of fresh air in the frequently sanitised world of golf. I am bored with the humdrum interviews where players trot out platitudes about staying in the present and playing one shot at a time. In Muffin’s interviews, she actually says it as it is: “Up, down, whatever. I can’t f***ing stop talking.” And that to me is great. It’s honest. It’s real and it’s absolutely compelling. I normally abhor swearing, but it’s obviously so natural and integral to who she is, it almost feels wrong to suppress it.
During her twenty years on tour, some of her playing partners must have been worried about being drawn with her after she turned up in Italy “wearing knickers and a tie and playing while listening to headphones and singing songs” but wow, what a character to have had around.
Muffin maintains that she didn’t like taking her medication because she felt most alive during the manic episodes without it. All I can say is, good for you girl. You seem to have endeared yourself to almost everyone who has been lucky enough to interview you or play with you. I just hope that you are now both healthy and happy.
Golf needs more people like you – but… Oh my word!