Masako Katsura – The first lady of billiards who brought women to the sport

Estimated read time 8 min read


Masako Katsura became a worldwide sensation when she wowed everyone in San Francisco in the 1950s with her incredible pool skills.



At that time, most sports were dominated by men as women learned to work as typewriters, sew lots of things and do menial jobs. Even though the sports of the time were dominated by men, along came a lady who showed the men their place and stole the show with her trick shots.


That lady is none other than Masako Katsura, also known as “Katsy”.


She played pool with three pillows like no other man. A game where there is nothing but trick shots, a girl who kills it before the other, and that too in the 50s? No one could imagine that even in their wildest dreams.


Before we get into who this wonder lady was, let’s first understand how three cushion billiards works.

What is three-cushion billiards

Three-cushion billiards or three-cushion carom is a form of billiards that is played in a completely different way than traditional billiards. For a player to score, their cue ball must touch at least three cushions and the object ball (in any order).


Those who play with three pillows or just enjoy watching this game know that this is easier said than done. Turns out it wasn’t that hard for Miss Masako Katsura. But who was he?


Masako Katsura

The Chicago Tribune, a reputable news outlet, had some great words to say about this pool lady.


“A pillow is something you sew, embroider, or tuck behind your back for comfort. Three pillows are just three times as many. But for one little lady, three pillows present a challenge no woman has taken on before. She is Miss Masako Katsura,” reported the Chicago Tribune when describing the legend of Miss Masako Katsura.


It was May 8, 1952 when Miss Katsura arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area where she beat everyone to the punch and stole the show. Six months later, she arrived in Chicago, where everyone was waiting to see her magic of playing trick shots in a three-cushion pool table and spoiler alert, she did not disappoint.


Name Masako Katsura (桂マサ子)

Katsy’s nickname

Height 5 feet

Weight 96 pounds (44 kg)

He was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan

American citizenship

Born March 7, 1913

Died 20 December 1995 (age 82)

Husband of Vernon Greenleaf (died 1967)

Trained by Tomio Kobashi, Kinrey Matsuyama

Professional career ended in 1961

As she would go smoke after smoke, she would take not only male players but also the champions of the time and beat them. Katsura would compete against the best male players and she would show off her skills and get everyone’s attention.


She couldn’t even speak English

The interesting thing about her fame is that when all the newspapers wrote about her amazing games, the lady herself did not understand what was being said about her. She would remain stoic in her appearance and show no reaction. However, she once said she appreciates all the backlash she gets.


How did Masako Katsura learn to play billiards?

Miss Masako Katsura learned her great cue skills in the pool halls of Tokyo, Japan. Her brother-in-law owned an indoor business in Tokyo, where she began acting at age 14. She says that her passion for billiards was not strong at first, but she felt weak and tired, and her brother-in-law would suggest playing billiards for physical and mental exercise.


As she played in the hall, she soon started working there. While working, she was interested in how customers would play different styles and play different trick shots.


Masako Katsura won the Japanese Women’s Flat Track Championship

She learned so quickly that she won the Japanese Women’s Flat Track Championship after only two years. Because she won the championship at a very competitive level and at an early stage, she caught the attention of Kinrei Matsuyama, a well-known name in Japan. At the time, he was the undisputed champion of billiards.


Once Matsuyama began training her, he moved her to three-cushion billiards—a better, harder, and more competitive form of billiards. The way it instantly transformed Katsura’s skills shows how brilliantly she learned, as three cushions is considered, even by pool heads, to be a tough and extremely demanding pool game.


Why was Masako Katsura shocked when she came to the US?

You might think of cultural differences, but that’s not all. Miss Katsura was shocked, or should we say disappointed, to see that there were not many women in pool halls in the United States.


She mentioned that there are around 2,000 billiard rooms in Tokyo and women work in almost all of them. When she came to the US and saw that pool as a whole was a male-dominated game, she felt quite nervous.



According to Miss Katsura, she only met one female pool player during her stay in the US. She also thought it would be great to have a pool parlor for women only.


Katsura’s Journey from Japan to the USA

Katsura met Air Force Commander Sergeant Vernon Greenleaf in 1948 when he was stationed in Japan, where Katsura was living. They had an intimate relationship when they met, and the couple married two years later, in 1951.


After Greenleaf was stationed at home in late 1951, Katsura and Greenleaf and the newlyweds moved to Sacramento Mather Air Force Base. She hosted welcome parties when she and her husband arrived in the US, and six-time three-cushion champion Welker Cochran couldn’t wait to meet Miss Katsura, the first lady of billiards.


As more and more soldiers returned to the US after the war, Cochran heard all the talk about this one lady who beat all the men at pool.


Masako Katsura shows off her skills to the Air Force men


Fun Fact: Miss Katsura performed her impressive trick for the troops on V-J (Victory over Japan) Day.


As he kept hearing about Miss Katsura’s brilliance, he was eager to meet her one day. He was so interested in Katsura and her skills that he asked his son, who was 60 miles from Tokyo, to find out more about Katsura. His son did not disappoint and sent him a 12-page letter explaining nothing but her three-cushion pool skills and fame.


Katsura was everything American billiards needed

When Katsura and her husband arrived in the United States, Cochran wasted no time in taking over the role of Katsura’s management. After a month, Cochran stated that the game needed a female player to compete with the best men, and Katsura gave them that player.


As she traveled around the US to perform at various shows, exhibitions and tournaments, her manager Cochran always went with her to speak to the press and talk about her unmatched skills.



The Detroit Free Press called Katsura “a true Japanese cue”.


Cochran told the Kansas City Star that Katsura spends hours practicing his craft. He said that even as a six-time champion, he was still amazed to see her strokes on the board.


Even though she would beat almost anyone, the men were not shy to show off her amazing shots. Jay Bozeman, one of her competitors, said she was one of the best players he had ever seen. Willie Hope, another contestant, was surprised to see her perform: “I didn’t expect that… The girl is amazing.”


Masako Katsura and her achievements in the United States

After winning the Japanese National Women’s Pool Tournament, she came to the US and finished second in the National All Men’s Competition (twice).


Playing now and then in the US, she made history as the first woman ever to play in an international pool title, finishing sixth.

In 1954, two years after coming to the U.S., she went to Buenos Aires, Argentina to compete in the World Championships, where she finished fourth. Even though there were tons of obstacles for women to play in competitions like pool in the 1950s, nothing seemed to stop Katsura and she triumphed against all odds.


Miss Masako Katsura wanted to play more, but said the nature of her husband’s work did not allow her to play often.

End of Katsura’s career

After the 1954 World Cup in Buenos Aires, Katsura stopped playing professionally as before. During the 1950s, she participated in local tournaments and exhibitions. Her last contest was against incoming world champion Harold Worst in 1961. She surprisingly lost six out of seven matches and quietly retired.


15 years after his public retirement, Katsura made a surprise appearance at Palace Billiards in San Francisco and scored an incredible 100 points in a row, surprising the crowd.



Miss Katsura has played and contributed so much to women’s sports that the new Women’s Professional Billiards Association has given her the honor of being a part of the organization.


Welkren Cochran, her American manager, acknowledged that Katsura had opened up a new field for women in a sport that had at first been dominated by men.


Frequently asked questions – FAQ

Masako Katsura How did she die?

Masako Katsura died at the age of 82 in 1995 while living in Tokyo. The exact cause of her death is unknown, but it is said that she died peacefully as she died of natural causes.


Who is Masako Katsura?

Masako Katsura was a three-cushion snooker champion who brought women from the United States to snooker and competitive three-cushion snooker. She was known for her remarkable cue skills.

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