Masako Katsura is a legendary billiards player known for her exceptional skills and contributions to the sport. She made a name for herself in Japan before moving to the USA and competing in world championships, as well as participating in exhibition matches and appearing on TV shows. Despite her private life, her legacy in the billiards world remains intact. Here’s everything about Masako Katsura, the first lady of billiards.
One of the most stylish and sophisticated indoor games is pool. It is part of the cue sports genre. Some of the most renowned pool players, like the remarkable Masako Katsura, have not only garnered popularity but also substantial wealth through their mastery of the game.
During the 1950s, Masako Katsura was a renowned billiards player and left a lasting impact. Despite the male-dominated arena, she emerged as a world-renowned billiards expert and earned the title “First Lady of billiards.” Despite her expertise in billiards, there was more to her than just her love for the sport.
Full name: Masako Katsura
Nick name: The First Lady of billiards / Katsy
Date of birth: March 7, 1913
Age: 82 (as of 1995)
Zodiac sign: Pisces
Place of birth: Tokyo, Japan
Current residence: California, U.S.A., before moving to Tokyo till her death
Height in feet: 5’10
Height in centimeters: 152
Hair colour: Black
Eye colour: Brown
Marital status: Married (Vernon Greenleaf – 1950 to 1967)
Profession: Professional billiards player
Net worth: $1 million
Masako “Katsy” Katsura was born on March 7, 1913, in Tokyo, Japan and was raised in a strict household with three sisters and a brother. The second-born child, she had two younger sisters, Noriko and Tadako, who also took up billiards and played professionally.
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Very little is known about Katsura’s parents, however, she once stated in an interview that it was her mother who introduced her to billiards. As a frail child, her mother wanted her to engage in the sport to build her strength.
Unfortunately, Katsura’s childhood was marked by tragedy when she lost her father at the young age of 12. She was then sent to live with her elder sister who was already married. As fate would have it, her sister’s husband, Tomio Kobashi, owned a billiards hall.
By the time Masako was 14 years old, she spent a lot of time in the hall and was employed as an attendant. In addition to practicing alone, she started taking lessons from her brother-in-law, who was a passable player.
In 1937, Katsura’s billiards journey received a major boost when she encountered Kinrey Matsunya. Matsunya, a multi-time Japanese three-cushion champion and 1934 U.S. national champion among other achievements, coached her to reach the highest level of professional play.
Under Matsunya’s guidance, Katsura’s billiards abilities dramatically improved. By 1947, she had achieved legendary status as the only female professional billiards player in Japan. In 1948, she was runner-up in the Japanese national three-cushion championship and repeated her second-place finish for two consecutive years.
Public billiard exhibitions
Katsuya began participating in interviews and open billiards competitions, which attracted large crowds and helped her become even more famous. In the late 1940s, she gave one of her most famous performances when she achieved 10,000 points in a straight rail game that took more than four and a half hours.
The Second World War had a severe impact on Katsura’s billiards career. Following the end of the war, she sought ways to revitalize it, including playing for American troops, which helped spread her reputation across the ocean and marked the beginning of her international career.
In 1951, Katsura relocated to California, U.S.A. where she continued to play billiards. However, the American billiards community was largely dominated by men with few women participating or working in billiards halls. Thus, it was a momentous occasion when she received an invitation to participate in the 1952 World Three-Cushion Billiards tournament, becoming the first female competitor.
Katsura’s 7th place finish at the World Championship stunned the billiards community, as she defeated several top players including Ray Kilgore, Joe Procita, and Herb Hardt. Despite her victories, she fell to her former mentor, Matsuyama, in a close match of 50 to 48 points.
Her success at the World Championship cemented her legend in the billiards world. Former two-time world champion Welker Cochran came out of retirement to tour the U.S. with her. In the following year’s championship, Katsura once again impressed, finishing fifth alongside Matsuyama.
In the 1954 championship, Katsura once again made history as the only female competitor. She placed fourth overall and caused upsets against top players. After the tournament, she took a break from competition, focusing on exhibition matches and appearing on television to discuss the sport.
Katsura wrote several books on billiards that were published in Japan. However, by 1961, the World Three-Cushion Championship was discontinued due to a loss of popularity among fans. Nevertheless, the reigning champion Harold Worst made a significant move by inviting the Japanese icon to a championship match, attracting worldwide attention.
Unfortunately, Katsura was defeated in six out of seven matches by Worst. After the competition, she retired from the spotlight, rarely participating in exhibition matches and keeping a low profile.
Husband and children
In the late 1940s, Katsuya encountered Master Sergeant Vernon Greenleaf while playing billiard exhibitions for American soldiers. Greenleaf was stationed in Tokyo, and after witnessing her exceptional skills, he requested her to instruct him.
The two formed a close bond, with Greenleaf falling head over heels for her, ultimately leading to his proposal. They tied the knot on November 18, 1950. Not long after their marriage, Greenleaf was relocated to the USA, and Katsuya joined him. She established a home in America with Greenleaf and lived there until his passing in 1967. Sadly, the couple was childless during their marriage, and Katsuya never remarried.
Katsura was a renowned billiards player, known for her impressive competition record in Japan and later, in the United States. She made headlines by taking part in public exhibitions and appeared as a guest on television programs, and even authored books on the sport.
Her billiards career brought her significant financial success, with an estimated net worth of $1 million in current currency values.
Later life and death
After retiring from billiards and the loss of her husband, she lived a low-key life. She resided in the United States until 1990, when she returned to Japan to live with her sister, Noriko. Sadly, she passed away in 1995.
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