DETROIT – After a long month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and a frustrating finish to his Indianapolis 500 run, Graham Rahal needed a getaway.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver found the perfect respite before heading to the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear with his second-favorite pastime to racing: golf.
Rahal returned to his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday to play in the charity celebrity pro-am tournament at the Memorial Tournament on the Muirfield Village course in suburban Dublin designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus. Better yet, Rahal teamed again with PGA TOUR star Rickie Fowler – with whom he was unbeaten in previous PGA pro-am events.
Anytime Rahal gets in a round of golf, he enjoys it. But this one was particularly satisfying since it came in his hometown following the grueling May activities in Indy and he was paired again with Fowler.
“It was good to be able to clear your mind up after a long month of May and the toll it can have on you,” Rahal said. “It was also good to get out there and have some laughs and a good time with people.”
So grateful to be partnered with @nationwide & to play in the @memorialgolf tournament. Nationwide has given over $27M back to @nationwidekids and even more to communities around the country. Proud to be a part of it & hope to be back in 2020! #thememorial #pgatour #beafan pic.twitter.com/2fr6OAP2mt
The pro-am event benefited several local organizations including Nicklaus Children's Healthcare Foundation and Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus. The latter is a facility close to the Rahal family’s heart.
“I’m new to the Nationwide Insurance team,” he said. “They invited me to come to this tournament and I grew up watching this tournament, which was awesome. It’s big in central Ohio.
“My parents have donated to the hospital and what Nationwide does for these kids is amazing. It’s tough sometimes to see the kids and what they go through, but at the end of the day Nationwide is doing a great job with the hospital and helping these kids.”
The tournament included other big-name stars. Retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning was paired with Tiger Woods, in the foursome playing just ahead of Rahal and Fowler. Rahal said he was able to talk with the two-time Super Bowl champion who is now a noted spokesman for the “Nationwide is on your side” TV commercials.
“I hadn’t met Peyton before, but we hit it off right away,” Rahal said. “We know a lot of the same people and I’ve done a lot with the Peyton Manning’s Children Hospital in Indianapolis. It was great to spend a little bit of time with him.
“Hopefully, I will be able to meet Tiger sometime as well,” he added with a laugh.
Rahal viewed the pro-am event was a great chance to ready himself for the rest of the NTT IndyCar Series season after he crashed out of Sunday’s Indy 500 in 27th place. It begins with this weekend’s Detroit doubleheader.
“It’s a good chance to refresh a little after May and before this doubleheader weekend,” he said. “I’m at the pro-am to help raise money for Nationwide’s efforts, but golf for me is a great way to get out for a few hours – to think about something else and get some clarity and clear my mind.”
Maybe the diversion worked. Rahal was fifth quick in Friday’s opening practice on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park, with a lap of 1 minute, 17.2201 seconds (109.557 mph). The 13th-year Indy car driver won both Detroit races in 2017.
Practice 2 on Friday streams live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold, starting at 2:50 p.m. ET. It will be followed by pit stop practice and the final warmup at 3:50 p.m.