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Muffin Spencer-Devlin.

Blazing the trail in women's pro golf, she proved sponsors will stick by an out-and-out winner

Pro golfer Muffin Spencer-Devlin still marvels at the paradoxical reactions to her coming-out two years ago. Support came from people she least expected to provide it, while those she thought would cheer turned their backs instead.

"We didn't hire you because of who you sleep with--we hired you for your personality and your ability to play golf," her sponsors told her. Many straight players on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour were equally supportive, eager to discuss and and even joke with her about the groundbreaking Sports Illustrated profile in which she openly discussed her relationship with Lynda Roth, a composer and musician.

The gay players, though, vanished faster than a golf ball shanked into tall grass. "I had looked forward to conversations with other gay players," says Spencer-Devlin, 44. "Like in college, when an issue comes up and you sit around some coffeehouse and talk about it. That has not happened. The gay players still nod and say hello, but beyond that, conversation basically doesn't exist."

Spencer-Devlin won't speculate about their rejection, but it doesn't stretch the imagination to conclude they fear their own exposure. They certainly didn't help ease her sense of feeling "naked" the first year after she came out--a feeling she imagines golfer Patty Sheehan, who came out in a March 27 column in Golf World magazine, is now experiencing.

"With hindsight, it really took a year to get used to the idea [of coming out]," Spencer-Devlin says. "Other than Martina [Navratilova], there wasn't anyone to call and ask, `What's it like? What do you go through? Are there any signposts or milestones?'"

Even if other gay players haven't followed her out of the closet, let alone discussed the topic with her, Spencer-Devlin's action has brought about at least one positive change in the LPGA: The organization agreed to replace the "spousal badge"--an access pass previously given only to players' husbands--with a "buddy clip," a money clip that can be given to any significant other. "It was a great solution--it can be used by your caddy, your mother, your father, your nanny, your fiancee," Spencer-Devlin says. Roth, who now has her own engraved clip, says the change "made me feel very welcome."

Spencer-Devlin's spouse--they were married on the hillside above their Laguna Beach, Calif., home in May 1996---also has been welcomed by fans at tournaments around the country who come up to the couple and thank both of them. "You don't realize the impact it has," Roth says.

Spencer-Devlin says she is very aware that she's become a role model but insists that isn't the reason she came out. "I didn't do this to spearhead a wave of gay women athletes coming out--I just did it to enhance the quality of my life," she says. "It was a very selfish act in that way."

Two years later her relationship remains strong, her golf game is improving, and her mental health is good (she has battled manic-depressive psychosis, openly talking about it too). She has no regrets about coming out but would counsel other gay women in sports to be sure of their motives before taking a similar plunge. "The best candidate to come out would be someone very comfortable with herself," she says.

Is that how she'd describe herself?. "Yes. Absolutely," she says. "I was sick and tired of not being myself. I was sick and tired of hiding a piece of myself, a portion of who I am as a human being."

Kort is writing a biography of singer-songwriter Laura Nyro for St. Martin's Press.
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Title Annotation:Sports Heroes: Golf
Author:Kort, Michele
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Aug 18, 1998
Previous Article:Greg Louganis.
Next Article:David Pichler.

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