ROCHESTER, N.Y. – It looked like a funny moment. It turned out to be anything but.
On Monday, during a practice round here at Oak Hill prior to the start of the PGA Championship, Tiger Woods stepped toward a fenced-in area of fans to sign autographs. As he did so, the crowd pushed forward and the fence nearly collapsed.
Woods darted away quickly and flashed a smile. Crisis averted, for both him and the fans.
On Tuesday, however, Woods was asked about the incident and he struck a serious note. He said a girl had fallen in the scrum.
"She was just on the ground crying," Woods told reporters. "People get so aggressive for autographs. And security is trying to be aggressive to protect the little kids up front. You try and sign, but sometimes the adults start running over the little kids up front, and especially on a fence like that, on a hard fence, it can get dangerous sometimes."
He's right. Golf is hardly the kind of spectator sport where fans are potentially in peril, like NASCAR, but children are always at risk when there's a crowd and a fence. Those at the front don't sense any trouble, but a push of bodies from behind can quickly cause helplessness and fear. An engineer named John Fruin, who studied crowd dynamics, once wrote that "Intense crowd pressures, exacerbated by anxiety, make it difficult to breathe."
"Tiger Woods was smart – for his own safety and the safety of the crowd – to back off," crowd control expert Peter Wertheimer said. "You can see the 'bicycle barricades' are close to buckling. They are not the type of barricades that can withstand a powerful crowd craze or surge, like those used at the front of a rock concert. Had he moved forward, it is reasonable to conclude the crowd would have been pushed forward from behind, the barricades would have collapsed along with people in the crowd. There would have been injuries."
There's no need to stay away from the golf course or stay away from Tiger Woods galleries, but even at a golf course on a beautiful day, there's reason to be cautious. Woods realized that, and wisely stepped away. He might have disappointed a few people, but he also may have done them a big favor.
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