Jim Gray handles Corey Pavin situation well on the air, but not off the air

By Leonard Shapiro
Monday, August 16, 2010; 10:32 PM

It's been a tough summer for freelance broadcaster Jim Gray. Just when the venom finally seemed to be subsiding over his revolting role in the LeBron James "Decision" fiasco on ESPN, Gray once again found himself a major player in another high profile story last week at the PGA Championship.

Working as a reporter for The Golf Channel, Gray went on the air last Tuesday evening to tell viewers he had spoken to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin earlier in the day and asked him if he planned to make slumping Tiger Woods one of his four wild-card captain's choice picks for the American team.

Gray said on the air that Pavin told him that "of course I'm going to (select Woods). He's the best player in the world."

Good for Gray, and good for The Golf Channel, a network not widely noted for its hard-hitting coverage of the game. That kind of journalism is difficult to do when your network also considers itself a "partner" with the PGA Tour and other golf entities, who prefer a softer, sugar-coated approach and not much original groundbreaking reporting.

Surely that's one of the reasons The Golf Channel has used Gray mostly at the major championships in the first place-to come up with just the kind of exclusive report he provided after chatting with Pavin about Woods's Ryder Cup prospects on Tuesday.

What Golf Channel higher-ups did not expect was Pavin showing up the next day for a joint news conference with European team captain Colin Montgomerie and categorically denying what Gray had reported the night before. Pavin never actually said he was misquoted, only that Gray had "used a quote that misrepresented what I said. It shows disrespect to the other guys who are trying to qualify for the team."

And yet, fast forward six days later to Pavin's news conference on Monday in Milwaukee, the day after the PGA Championship had ended, ostensibly to talk about the eight players who had qualified on points for the American team.

Pavin was asked again about Woods's chances of becoming a captain's choice pick, and he said, point blank, "well, he's the No. 1 player in the world. That's a pretty big pro. He's playing better. I think we have all seen that and he wants to play, he wants to be a part of the team. But it's going to be my judgment whether I pick him or not. Obviously I'm considering him highly, no doubt about it. I don't think there's any cons."

Really now, doesn't that sound like a man who's already made up his mind about picking Tiger Woods for his team, just as Jim Gray reported last week?

Just a guess here because I was not in the room when Gray initially spoke to Pavin about Woods. But doesn't it now seem quite possible that Pavin told Gray pretty much the same thing that day, then realized upon further review that he had probably jumped the gun? Could it be that Pavin was advised by PGA of America officials to back off a bit and take a more politically correct approach the next day at his own news conference, to make it sound as if he really hadn't totally made up his mind, the better not to offend the remaining contenders for those four spots?

Of course, that's all pure speculation, and I wanted to ask Gray about all of the above myself. Sadly, he has not responded to several requests for an interview initially made through a Golf Channel spokesman on Monday morning.

Still, I've known Gray for a very long time, and quite frankly, I'm having a hard time believing that he would simply make up the Woods story. You may question Gray's tactics, as many did during that controversial interview with Pete Rose in 1999 when he relentlessly grilled him about his gambling on baseball. Or you can hold your nose at all those softball and occasionally inane questions he asked LeBron James before finally getting to the point.

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