There’s a thing about Hubbard guys, Tom Novosel will tell you.
“We all have nicknames.”
In their loyal, diehard golf group, Novosel is T-bone. And there’s PK, Row, Jimmy Shoe, Nippy, Skok, JoeJoe ...
But of ’em all, “Seve” Steve Merrell is T-bone’s best golf buddy.
He’s nicknamed after Spanish golf legend Seve Ballesteros. Merrell, too, is a golf fanatic, and Ballesteros was his favorite player. Ballesteros died in 2011 at age 54.
It is perhaps more than chance that Merrell loved Ballesteros.
First, they have bounding personalities. They enter a room before their feet touch it and remain there long after they walk out.
“It’s always fun with Seve around,” said Chris Carfangia, Pine Lakes Golf Club’s head pro. “He’s this fun, jovial guy. He’s a pretty good golfer, too. But he also had fun doing it.”
Also, Steve’s name is conveniently adjustable to his hero’s.
“I was looking at a scorecard one day,” T-bone said. “And I looked at Steve’s name, and I said ‘If we just drop the ‘t,’ you’re ‘Seve.’”
And it stuck.
The two Seves also loved the Masters.
The Spaniard won two green jackets. While he won more British Opens, the dashing Ballesteros looked to be born in a Masters jacket.
Every April, Seve was glued to his TV awash in the green of Augusta, said T-bone. Seve even created a special golf event around that weekend — “Merrell’s Masters.”
They golfed Sunday morning, then it was food, beer and the boys around a TV for the final hours of the Masters.
“It was all Seve’s idea,” said T-bone about why Merrell got the naming rights.
He would sit for hours and review handicaps, said T-bone.
“Guys would call in saying they have a bad back or knee. He never cut slack. In his Masters, you always lost a stroke on your handicap; sometimes two,” said T-bone. Biting competitiveness also was a Ballesteros trait.
And also like Ballesteros, the golf world lost Seve before it was ready to.
Merrell was 53, one year younger than Ballesteros, when a motorcycle accident killed him last fall.
The Masters teed off a couple of weeks back, and it did, too, at Pine Lakes Golf Club.
And Seve was with them.
A bench in his honor was unveiled that cold morning with 56 golfers standing around it — 16 more than Seve ever, ever, EVER ... would have allowed. He was a stickler that the event was played at 40 players, T-bone said.
But that’s how many guys wanted to get in to an event that is now a Merrell memorial.
The player total possibly is the only Seve rule they broke, T-bone said.
“As we were going through guys’ handicaps,” T-bone said, “if we got stuck, we’d say ‘What would Seve do?’”
T-bone said there was never a doubt that Merrell’s Masters would happen this year. It did not get a lot of talk as the golf buddies kept vigil at the hospital for several days after Seve’s accident until he passed. But in December, T-bone said the plans got rolling along with help from pals Joe Sheridan, Brian “Nippy” Pishkur, Jimmy DeDonato and Seve’s brother, Ken “Blood Dog” Merrell.
The bench that honors Seve bears the inscription SDLqHe never had a bad lie.”
It was perhaps as meaningful of his optimism as it was for his generous rulings — especially with club’s-length measurements. He may have had the longest club in the Valley, T-bone would have you believe.
“We’d played in a lot scrambles,” said T-bone. “And when people learned they were playing with Seve, they’d say, ‘We’ll never have a bad lie today.’”
Seve won his Masters only once — in 2010.
It is fitting, then, that the winner of Seve’s beloved tourney that is now a memorial in his honor was the other Merrell — Blood Dog.
“It was an emotional day,” said Kenny. “I just went there to play the best I could.”
Seve had such a great base of friends, Kenny said. It’s a wonderful group, event and tribute.
“I felt like I was going to break down,” Kenny said when he put on the green jacket.
“You have to lose somebody to really know what it’s like to put on something as special as that jacket.”
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.