Garza goes undefeated to take first return stop on the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour

Obbie Cirilo, Bobby Garza and Michael Delawder

While much of what we know about success in the pool world is associated with skill, experience and attitude, there is evidence that a player’s general health can be an important factor. Take the case of Florida’s Bobby Garza, for example. He’s co-director, with Janene Phillips, of the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour and has been competing on the tour since it was formed in 2015. It’s where and how he and Phillips first met. Garza’s record at the tables, as recorded here on AZBilliards, began in 2008, when he finished in the tie for 9th place at a stop on Tommy Kennedy’s J. Pechauer Southeast 9-Ball Tour. In all that time, from those days to these days, he failed to record a single major victory anywhere, although he did win events on Tony Crosby’s Florida Tour, which went unreported.

In February of this year, just ahead of the pandemic’s arrival, Garza went under the knife for a second hernia operation (the hernia had returned after the initial operation in 2018) and in the process of preparation, the doctors informed him that he should get his Type II diabetes under control. He was unaware that he had the disease. Checking back through medical records for results of blood work over the years revealed, as he’d been told, that it wasn’t something that had developed overnight; that it had been going on for a few years and that he just hadn’t been told. He took the advice about getting it under control, consulted with a new doctor and after a successful operation began a regimen of medication which assisted him in losing 40 pounds. Almost immediately, he began kicking butt at the tables.

“It made a tremendous difference in my game,” he said.

He went out to Las Vegas in March to compete in the eventually aborted-by-the-pandemic BCAPL World Championships and finished in the tie for 5th among 90 entrants in the singles event. He came home to Florida, won two local (unrecorded) tournaments and on the weekend of August 1-2 went undefeated to win his first Sunshine State Pro Am Tour event in 23 recorded tries (he may have competed on the tour more times, but if he failed to cash, his efforts would have gone unrecorded). And to punctuate his first tour win, he won his last two matches, hot seat and finals, double hill. The $1,330-added event ($580 of it from a Predator raffle) drew 64 entrants to Racks in Sanford, FL.

In the Coincidence department, Garza would face long-time friend Obbie Cirilo in the finals of this event. Cirilo had won the last, pre-pandemic stop on the tour (Feb. 1-2). At that event, Garza shared the 5th place tie with Nicolle Cuellar, who, on this weekend, would become the winner of the tour’s first Ladies event; a $350-added (plus Acme case to winner) event that drew 25 entrants (see separate report). Cuellar assisted Janene Phillips in running the ladies’ event, so this tour stop was actually won by two of its co-tour directors.

Garza not only finished with two double hill wins, he started with two, as well, against Christopher Campos and Manuel Montas. Subsequent victories over Evan Huynh 7-3 and Steve Wiggam 7-5 put him into a winners’ side semifinal against Mike Kohn. His eventual hot seat opponent, Mike Delawder, started with a double hill win over Anthony Meglino and then downed Jason Sheerman 7-2, Robert Batson 7-5 and Julio Burgos 7-3 to draw Ameet Kukadia in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Garza got into the hot seat match with a 7-3 win over Kohn. Delawder survived a double hill battle against Kukadia to join him. The battle for the hot seat went double hill, and as Garza recalled, it was more of a mentai challenge than the eventual finals turned out to be.

“To go undefeated in any event is spectacular,” he said, “but I think I was more excited winning that hot seat match; getting over that ‘hot seat’ match hurdle, and figure ‘Hey, I’m guaranteed at least 2nd place.”

In the deciding game, Delawder broke and was running to the 4-ball, when he encountered a planning problem for position on the 5-ball. He opted for a bank shot in the hopes of improving his position for the 5-ball and missed the 4-ball.

“You have no idea how relieved I was to see him miss that bank,” said Garza. “He’s one of the best (at that) in the country.”

Garza stepped to the table and ran it to claim the hot seat.

On the loss side, Kukadia picked up Justin Hall, who’d lost a double hill battle to Justin Toye in the third winners’ side round and was in the midst of a six-match, loss-side winning streak that would take him as far as the semifinals. He’d most recently eliminated Vic Zaman 8-1 and Robert Batson 8-3. Kohn drew a rematch against Obbie Cirilo, who’d been sent over by Kohn in the third round and was in the midst of his own loss-side winning streak of seven matches that would put him into the finals. He had most recently eliminated Justin Toye 7-3 and survived a double hill battle versus Greg Pugh, Jr.

Hall shut Kukadia out for his slot in the quarterfinals. Cirilo joined him following a 7-2 win over Kohn. Cirilo and Hall battled to double hill in those quarterfinals, before Cirilo advanced to meet and eventually defeat Delawder in the semifinals 7-5.

Though it’s clear from the double hill battle that followed, that Cirilo was invested in winning it, it is also true that Cirilo couldn’t have been happier for his friend Garza when he dropped the 9-ball that sealed the 9-8 win and Garza’s first tour victory. According to Phillips, who has actually known Cirilo longer than she’s known Garza, Garza has a nickname by which he’s known to a majority of the pool players in his Florida backyard. It’s not a nickname we’ll spell out for you here, but Phillips noted that Garza’s health-related improvement at the tables has not gone unnoticed.

“He’s back,” said Phillips, “to being Bobby ‘MFG.”

“I see a tremendous difference in my game because of the (resolution) of health issues I was unaware I had,” said Garza, adding that one major difference he noted was his re-found ability to maintain focus, both at the game and shot level. “I can hold my focus now until I actually make contact. The healthier you are, the better focused you are.”

Phillips and Garza thanked Pedro Botta and his staff at Rack’s for their hospitality, as well as title sponsor Predator Group, Stitch It To Me Embroidery, Diamond Billiard Products, Central Florida USA Pool League, X-treme Pool (which streamed selected matches of the event) and AZBilliards. The next stop on the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour is to be determined. Phillips and Garza are discussing safety protocols and other issues with the potential host to clarify procedures and solidify the date. Check the tour’s Facebook page for further information.