Name: Masako Katsura
Date of Birth: 7 March 1913
Died: 20 December 1995
Profession: Carom Billiards Player
Sport: Carom Billiards
Turned Pro: In 1947
Coached By: Tomio Kobashi, Kinrey Matsuyama
Retired: In 1961
Masako Katsura, also known as “Katsy,” was a Japanese carom billiards player who dominated in the 1950s. She was sometimes known as the “First Lady of Billiards” and was born on 7 March 1913. In the mainly male world of professional billiards. Katsura set an example for female athletes by participating and finishing among the highest. Katsura, the only female professional Player in Japan. First started the sport with her brother-in-law before studying under Kinrey Matsuyama. A former national champion. She came second three times in Japan’s national three-cushion billiards championship while competing there. She gained attention for running 10,000 points in the game of straight rail during an event.
On 7 March 1913, in Tokyo, Masako Katsura was born. About Katsura’s early years in Japan, little is known. Three sisters and a brother were born in Katsura. When Katsura was 12 years old, their father passed away. She moved in with her older sister, Tomio Kobashi, who ran a pool hall, and her sister’s family. By the age of 13, she started frequenting her brother-in-billiards law establishment. By 14, she was employee there as a billiard attendant. Katsura learned the principles of several carom billiards games from the excellent Player Kobashi. Footnote Additionally, Katsura’s family purchased a pool table for her home after she expressed a strong desire for the game. Katsura put in a lot of practice before competing against and defeating Japanese men.
Once Masako Katsura said:
“I was weak, and I was tired all the time, So my mother wanted me to play billiards to make me exercise and make me stronger.”
Katsura, only 15 years old, won the Japanese women’s straight rail championship. In a 1959 interview, Katsura commented, “Then I got professional and started traveling with a sister all over Japan, China, and Formosa.” Noriko and Tadako, Katsura’s two younger sisters, won the title for women’s straight rail.
Married Life of Masako Katsura
In 1947, Katsura spotted by Master Sergeant Vernon Greenleaf (not related to Ralph Greenleaf. The pool and carom champ), a member of the Army Quartermaster Corps who had served in the armed forces for 22 years. Greenleaf and Katsura met at a Tokyo service club where she gave a billiards exhibition. She quickly fell in love with Katsura and began taking lessons from her. Their marriage occurred on 30 November 1950, but they never had children.
The year before they married, Katsura had already won two-second places at Japan’s national three-cushion championships. After getting married, she won the runner-up spot a third time.
Immigration to America
As the next milestone in Katsura’s life, she immigrated to the U.S. with her new husband. During their stay at Haneda Air Base in Tokyo, Vernon transferred to a U.S. post a year after marriage.
Katsura could have spoken English better, so this was a big move for her, but the two determined to make it work. Within three months, the World Three-Cushion Billiards tournament was schedule in San Francisco. Where they landed in December 1951.
The tournament’s organizer, Cochran, gave Katsura a conditional placement, allowing him to participate. As Katsura’s success grew, word of her reputation spread rapidly, and she began creating a name for herself.
Between 1933 and 1945, Cochran won eight world championships. As mentioned above, Cochran wanted to make sure she was up to par before placing in the tournament.
As a result, Cochran sent his son, W.R. Cochran, a naval officer in Japan, to look for himself. He said to his father, ‘She’s better than you are,’ after seeing Katsura’s skills. As a champion himself, he was even more intrigued.
After arriving in the U.S. with her husband, she took part in Cochran’s private exhibition, in which she was everything he had claimed. He watched in awe as she made ‘quite unbelievable shots,’ hitting runs of 300 and 400.
As soon as Cochran saw Katsura’s first world championship, he finalized the offer.
Professional Career of Katsura
Katsura met Kinrey Matsuyama, a multiple-time national three-cushion champion from Japan, in 1937. Before Global War II, Matsuyama won the U.S. national championship in 1934. Finished second four times in world competitions at 18.2 balkline’s, and was the runner-up three other times. Katsura pleased Matsuyama, who started teaching her advanced play. As the only female professional billiard Player in Japan by 1947, Katsura was a well-known figure in the sport. A paper called the champion a “real Japanese cue tee”.
Masako Katsura Once said:
“I have only met one woman billiard player while I have been here. Here a billiard parlor is thought of as a man’s place … You know, if someone had a billiard parlor for women only, that would be good.”
World Three-Cushion Billiards Tournament of 1952
Katsura didn’t just stop at the 1952 championship, though. In 1953, Katsura took part in and won her first-ever U.S. Women’s World Three-Cushion Billiards Championship. Which was a huge moment for not her but women striving to break barriers in male-dominated sports.
This title was one of six U.S. championships that Katsura would go on to win in her career.
However, this isn’t to say that Katsura was unstoppable. The 1954 World Three-Cushion Tournament in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Brought some of the world’s best players out of retirement to play with her.
There were the following members in the line-up:
2. Ray Miller
3. Harold Worst
4. Juan and Ezequiel Navarra
5. Welker Cochran
6. And the defending champion, Kilgore
Katsura was, as usual, the only female competitor. After winning over Miller (60-47), Katsura went on to win against various other opponents.
After losing to Ezequiel Navarra (60-28), she won against his brother to finish fourth. The 25 October 1954 was Worst’s first tournament since retirement.
First Lady of Billiards Later Years
The following year, 1958, she returned and made 30 appearances at exhibitions and published two instructional books about billiards.
It was a stirring year for billiards when word spread that Katsura would be playing a one-week match against Harold Worst. At Randolph Recreation Centre in Chicago, offering 1,200 points.
In Philadelphia, they played six matches to 50 points (three cushions) and then exhibited in New York. A few feathers ruffled in the media due to this announcement.
TV Appearance of Masako Katsura
As a guest on CBS’ popular primetime television show, What’s My Line?, Katsura appeared on 1 March 1959. A panel of judges tried to guess the line (occupation) or, if a famous “mystery guest” participated. The contestant’s identity during a guessing game. In addition to signing in with Japanese characters on a chalkboard. Show officials listed Katsura’s occupation as “Professional Billiard Player (World’s Women’s Champion).” Although she admitted reading about Katsura but claimed never to have seen her picture. Panelist Arlene Francis correctly identified Katsura’s occupation. During her U.S. TV appearance that month, Katsura went behind the scenes of a western production. To show how a covered wagon was roll over and crashed. The following week, on 25 November 1960, she appeared again on You Asked For It, demonstrating trick shots for the camera.
The 1961 title match against the Worst
Three-cushion championships lasted from 1961 to 1965 and were no longer organized. As a result, Harold Worst, the reigning champion since 1954. Challenged Katsura to defend his title at the Pantlind Hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan. On 13-18 March of that year, for a $2,000 purse. At the same venue in Grand Rapids, Worst made a similar title-defending challenge to Joe Chamaco of Mexico the year before. During his title match with Katsura, Worst even attempted to block an Argentinian tournament billed. As a “world title” that coincided with his tournament. Worst won six out of seven matches, with a combined total of 350 and 276 cushions scored between them. Chamaco won the Argentina tournament a year later to claim the world title.
Masako Katsura moved back to Japan around 1990 when she died in 1995 at the age of 82.
Google Doodle Honored Masako Katsura
Katsura remains an influential figure in the history of billiards to this day.
The Billiard Congress of America inducted her into its Hall of Fame in 1966. And the American Billiard Media Association awarded her the Player of the Century award.
As part of Google’s celebration of International Women’s Day on 7 March 2021, “The First Lady of Billiards“ Masako Katsura was featured as a Google Doodle.
“Billiards will always remember Katsura as one of the greatest players of all time due to her influence on the game.”
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