On March 7, the daily Google Doodle paid tribute to Masako Katsura (pictured), who on that date in 1952 made history as the first woman to ever compete for an international billiards title.
To celebrate the Japanese sharpshooter’s achievement, Google dedicated an animated Doodle to Katsura, widely known as “the first lady of billiards.”
Born in Tokyo in 1913, Katsura began playing billiards after her father died when she was 12 and she went to live with her older sister and brother-in-law, who was the owner of a billiards parlor. By 14, she was working at the parlor as an attendant and was practicing the sport diligently.
By age 15, she won the women’s championship straight rail tournament of Japan and soon became the country’s only female professional player. She took second place three times in Japan’s three-cushion billiards championship. In one exhibition game of straight rail, she racked up 10,000 points, which are scored by making contact with the other two balls on the table during the same shot.
After Katsura moved to the U.S. in 1951, eight-time world champion Welker Cochran came out of retirement to play her in a series of three-cushion matches. Sunday’s Doodle depicts how a point is scored in the game — the cue ball must strike three rail cushions before making contact with the second object ball.
Cochran was so impressed with her talent that he sponsored the World Championship Billiards tournament in 1952 in his San Francisco billiard room. And although she upset some of the sport’s finest players, she finished seventh, but ahead of three prominent male players.
After losing a 1961 title match, Katsura drifted from the spotlight for many years before making a surprise appearance at Palace Billiards in San Francisco in 1976. Using a borrowed pool cue, the 63-year-old ran up 100 points straight with ease. She bowed to the adoring crowd’s applause and vanished from America’s billiards stage.
Katsura was one of the first inductees of the Women’s Professional Billiard Association Hall of Fame in 1976. She moved back to Japan in the 1990s and died in 1995.