Dubbed as the godfather of local pool, Aristeo “Putch” Puyat has helped develop billiard hall of famers like Efren “Bata” Reyes and Francisco “Django” Bustamante. Through Puyat Sports, his family company that operates several bowling and billiards centers in the country, he helped elevate billiards from a game usually associated with students skipping classes and drinking brawls to a legitimate sport.
Being passionate about billiards comes naturally to Putch Puyat, as the sport was popularized by his family. "Kung walang billiards, wala ang mga Puyat," he said.
Gonzalo Puyat, his grandfather, used to work as an assistant of a Spaniard who ran a billiards hall in Intramuros. “Noong aalis na ‘yung Spaniard sa Pilipinas, ipinagbili niya ‘yung billiards hall sa lolo ko,” he said.
From just managing the billiards hall, the old Puyat branched out to manufacturing of billiards table. “Lahat ng municipalities sa Pilipinas noon, lahat ng billiards table gawa ng kumpanya [namin],” said Putch.
Early on, Puyat knew that he would end up working for the family company. Having this kind of security, however, became partly the reason why he didn’t finish college in the University of the Philippines.
“Nakuha ko na major subjects ko. Hindi ko na kailangan iyong electives like Spanish. I already took accounting, economics and management. Dito rin naman ako sa amin magtatrabaho,” he said.
He acknowledges his privilege though, and knows that such mindset towards education is not one to be emulated. He cautions, “Sa lahat ng nakikinig na bata, education is very important, especially if you’re going to be a professional. You need a diploma and good grades.”
Working for his grandfather was not a walk in the park. Puyat started as a clerk for Puyat Sports. He got promoted as the assistant of his older brother, Jose G. Puyat, until the two of them took over and ran the company together. It was during this time when Puyat Sports started sponsoring billiards players and holding competitions to promote the sport. The endeavor, however, did not prove easy.
“My brother and I had to beg Malacañang. Censorship noon. [We had to beg] na bigyan ng airtime ang billiards. Una, ayaw. They looked down on it. Bisyo raw kasi may pustahan, may shady characters,” he recalled.
Discovering Efren “Bata” Reyes
Puyat admits that he didn’t have to do much to help Efren “Bata” Reyes succeed.
“Hindi sila jewel in the rough. Noong dumating sila amin, magaling na sila. All they needed was packaging,” he said of his proteges, particularly Reyes.
Reyes, as a matter of fact, was already popular in the United States long before he was brought under the wing of Puyat Sports.
“Nabalitaan namin noon na si Efren mas magaling pa kay Amang Parican,” he shared. “May clamor noon na paglabanin namin sila so gumawa kami ng event, Battle of the Champions, and Efren won.”
What Puyat likes most about Reyes is the latter’s humility. “Maganda ang demeanor niya. Very humble. No demands.”
For billiards to have the same level of popularity as basketball here in the country is what Puyat dreams of happening.
“Ang problema kasi sa amin sa billiards, kapag natalo ka, wala ka na eh. Kapag sa Gilas, ‘pag naka-second place, may awards pa rin. Sa amin, it’s either you win or you’re a nobody,” he said.
But in terms of removing the stigma attached to billiards, the godfather of local pool cannot help but say, “Mission accomplished na iyan!”
— Bernice Sibucao, CM/GMA News