Deo Bernard may only have started bowling four years ago, but the résumé he has compiled on the lanes makes clear that the bowling world can plan on hearing about him for years to come.
Bernard, a 16-year-old two-hander from the left side, said he bowled using a traditional one-handed style for the first year, but started bowling two-handed “just for fun. I was just playing around. Then I kind of got into it and kind of liked it, and it was more fun throwing it two-handed.”
A decision that started as “just playing around” has, just a few years later, helped pave Benard’s way into the pro-bowling history books: At age 16 years and 213 days on July 24, Benard became the youngest PBA member to win a regional title as he captured the South Point West Challenge trophy after downing Dan Peters in the title match, 223-190, at South Point Bowling Plaza in Las Vegas.
The feat eclipses previous record holder Trey Ford III’s regional title at age 17 years, 226 days on April 8, 2018, when he won the PBA FireLake/Grand Casino Resort Southwest Open at FireLake Bowling Center in Shawnee, Okla. When four-time regional winner Wesley Low won his first at age 15, he did so at the 2013 edition of the same event. Unlike Benard, however, Low recorded that milestone as a non-member.
In an ironic twist, Benard defeated Low en route to victory this time around, prevailing in their Round of 8 face-off, 230-290, 240-223, 248-235.
“At the time, I didn’t know if I was the youngest or not; I was just freaking out that I won,” said Bernard, who finished fourth in the U15 division at the Junior Gold Championships last year and 13th in that marquee national youth event in 2018. “It was really cool though.”
Benard, the son of three-time PBA Regional winner Rick, caught the eye of USBC Hall of Famer Steve Kloempken last October when Benard finished runner-up to Kloempken in the 2019 edition of the tournament.
“Deo is a tremendous talent, and having competed against him now in several tournaments, it’s clear that this PBA Regional title at age 16 is going to be the first of many,” said Kloempken, a former Team USA member. “His technique is powerful; seemingly anything that gets close to the 1-2 ends up striking. But what impresses me the most is his maturity and composure even under the pressure of PBA competition. Nothing seems to rattle him.”
This past February, Benard again finished runner-up in a regional when Derek Acuff held him off in the title match of the preliminary singles event held as part of the PBA South Point Member/Non-Member Doubles tournament.
Benard counts fellow southpaws Jakob Butturff and Jesper Svensson has his favorite PBA Tour players. He has a very good reason for that: “They strike a lot,” Benard says.
On the national stage, Benard finished 25th in January’s 2020 PBA Hall of Fame Classic at the International Training and Research Center in Arlington, Texas.
He says his dream is to “make cuts and win” on the national tour. If the regional record he is compiling in his mid-teens is any indication, Benard’s dream appears to be well within reach.