LA QUINTA, Calif. – Eddie Stephens swapped courtrooms for golf courses in 2006 after retiring from a long career as a prosecutor and judge in greater Chicago.
Stephens, 69, of Wilmette, Ill., joined the Golf Channel Am Tour in 2009 to fuel his competitive juices. “I was looking for a competitive outlet and to travel and play golf,” he said. “There are a lot of good guys out here, and the majors are at nice places.”
Stephens has won a dozen times on the Golf Channel Am Tour over his career. His best showings this season have been a trio of runner-up finishes.
He’s been a regular at the Golf Channel Am Tour senior national championships. He’s competing at nationals at PGA West this weekend. The 72-hole, stroke-play tournament started Friday and will conclude Monday when champions are crowned in six different flights.
“I’m trying to put forth my best effort, but I don’t overdo it,” he said. “If I’m in the top third (of my flight), I’m happy.”
One of his biggest golf highlights was qualifying for the 17th annual World Golfers Championship at the Fairmont Zimbali Resort in South Africa in 2011. The 72-hole competition was played at the Durban Country Club, the Prince’s Grant Golf Estate, the Umhlali Country Club and the Zimbali Golf Course. He helped lead the U.S. team to 10th place.
That’s a far cry from Cook County, Ill., where his law career spanned three decades. He was an assistant State's Attorney from 1983 to 1991, and an assistant U. S. Attorney from 1991-97. He was appointed an associate judge for the Circuit Court of Cook County in 1997. When asked about his big cases, he said matter-of-factly, “there were so many.”
People always ask if he worries about his safety after dealing with so many criminals. “Not really. There were some indirect threats. There were some pretty bad guys,” he said.
Maybe that's why he likes the game so much. You don't meet too many bad guys playing golf.
ROOKIE PERSPECTIVE: RJ Neild, who is participating in his first season on the Golf Channel Am Tour, is essentially playing a home game this week. Living just 90 miles away in El Centro, Calif., Neild has played the courses at PGA West many times, including a second-place finish on the Greg Norman course at a Golf Channel Am Tour event earlier this year.
He said playing in the Senior Sarazen flight (for handicaps 12.0-15.9) at nationals gives the whole PGA West experience a different feel. “This makes you feel more like somebody, like you’ve qualified for something special,” he said. “That turns it up a notch. Not everybody can do this.”